Valentine's Day – a day to show your loved one just how much you care, to exchange cards, give gifts and celebrate the joy of being together. While LGBT relationships are increasingly public, Valentine's Day continues to be a bittersweet reminder of how far we still have to go to have our relationships acknowledged and validated.
Today, 5 states extend to gay people the fundamental right to marry that is rooted in the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In Michigan, not only do we have a state constitutional amendment that says we cannot marry, but according to the Michigan Supreme Court, it says we cannot have civil unions, domestic partner health insurance benefits or any other basic recognition of our relationships.
For some of our clients, like Jim and Paul who have been together in a committed relationship for almost 20 years, under Michigan law they are virtual strangers. They lack the legal right to make medical decisions for one another, to inherit property without a will, or to make funeral and burial decisions. And our clients Nancy and Margo were legally married in Massachusetts, but their marriage is ignored by the State of Michigan and the federal government. They are not entitled to each other's social security benefits, the IRS does not acknowledge them for tax purposes, and they are not considered married for purposes of immigration. And because Thom and Dan cannot marry, Michigan courts deny them the right to jointly adopt their children and to ensure that their children have the legal protection of both parents in case something should happen to the other.
Imagine a country where the majority, through a voter referendum, can deny a minority group the same constitutional right that is afforded to the majority. You wouldn't think that this is democracy, but this is exactly what has happened in more than 30 states in the United States.
Denying LGBT couples fundamental rights won't diminish their love for one another, but it does put them at risk. On this Valentine's Day, while we share the love for others, let us also think about how to create a fairer and just state for all people who love, including our friends in the LGBT community.
By Jay Kaplan, ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project Staff Attorney