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Jay Kaplan, ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project Staff Attorney
Taking a break from the some of the challenges to achieving LGBT equality in Michigan, we have much to celebrate recently regarding marriage equality in Iowa and Vermont.
Last Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision rejecting Iowa’s law limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman. The court found that Iowa’s reasons for restricting marriage – promoting procreation among heterosexual married couples and preserving traditional marriage as historically known – were not enough to justify this ban.
The court characterized the right to marry as a fundamental right for both same-sex couples, as well as opposite sex couples and made it clear that a civil legal marriage must be judged under constitutional standards of equal protection, not under religious doctrines or religious views of individuals. Ultimately the court concluded that the only remedy to the unconstitutionality of Iowa’s law was to allow gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage. By all accounts this is a wonderful, thoughtful, thorough, fair and groundbreaking decision—this is the first unanimous decision in favor of marriage equality and it is the first decision to come from the Midwest, considered America’s “heartland.”
Could this mean that we could see marriage equality soon in Michigan? Well, unlike Michigan, Iowa’s civil rights laws protect LGBT people from discrimination. Also, unlike Iowa, Michigan has written in its constitution a ban on same-sex marriage. But we cannot lose hope. In several years, the composition of our Supreme Court may change, we may be able to repeal Michigan’s constitutional ban, and obtain civil rights protections for our community, creating a roadmap to marriage equality.
In other good news, Vermont’s Legislature voted to override Governor Jim Douglas’ veto of a marriage equality bill earlier this week. The bill now becomes law and Vermont becomes the fourth state to grant marriage equality to same-sex couples. This is also the first time a state legislature passes such a bill without the prompting of a lawsuit. For almost 10 years, Vermont has been permitting same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, which affords state rights associated with civil marriage, but not the right to marry in Vermont. This is the first time Governor Douglas has been overridden since he began his tenure as Governor in 2003. This is great news and a demonstration of the determination of certain legislators to do the right and fair thing.
Two good pieces of news in less than a week—gives us hope and the determination to carry on!