Michigan voters might decide in the November election how the state legally defines marriage. A group that wants to strengthen the state's ban on marriage for same-sex couples submitted petitions with more than 475,000 signatures to state election officials on Monday. If at least 317,757 of those signatures are valid, the issue could be on the November 2 ballot. The proposal would define marriage in the state constitution as a union between one man and one woman, and it would permanently ban any legal recognition of all other relationships, including civil marriage for same-sex couples and civil unions or domestic partnerships for all couples. Same-sex marriage is already banned in Michigan law, but opponents want language in the constitution to protect against judicial decisions or legislative initiatives. "The people responded," said Marlene Elwell, president of a group called Citizens for the Protection of Marriage. "They're tired of politicians and activist judges making changes without having a voice. This gives them a voice." About 200 campaign volunteers from across the state helped deliver the petitions Monday in downtown Lansing. State officials will evaluate the petition signatures over the next several weeks.
Wendy Howell, campaign manager for the pro-gay Coalition for a Fair Michigan, said her organization was neither "surprised nor discouraged" by the signature-gathering effort. "We know that many of these signatures were gathered under the guise of 'protecting marriage,'" she said, "and that many of the good people who signed these petitions will vote no on November 2 once it becomes clear to them that this goes far beyond simply strengthening the definition of marriage already on the books. We are prepared to mount and run a winning statewide campaign and are confident that a majority of Michiganders will choose to vote against this divisive and extreme amendment on November 2." Howell's group also said it would consider legal action to try to keep the proposal from appearing on the ballot.
Opponents of the measure say it would end domestic-partner benefits currently offered by public entities such as the city of Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan, and Michigan State University. "Those benefits would be gone," Howell said. "The language of the proposal is so broad."
Gay marriage has taken on a heightened profile across Michigan this year. Large-scale symbolic weddings were performed in Ferndale and Lansing in June. The ceremonies were organized shortly after the nation's first legal same-sex weddings were performed in Massachusetts in May.
Citizens for the Protection of Marriage began its campaign in April. The group was able to place local coordinators in all 83 Michigan counties and had hundreds of volunteers working on the campaign. Last-minute petition drop-off points were set up at churches in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties over the weekend. Other volunteers picked up petitions in locations as far north as Gaylord, then drove the forms to Lansing. "It's an issue that speaks to the heart of a lot of families," said Larry Corell, a campaign volunteer from Otsego County. "There is a lot of grassroots support."