While Friday’s Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage marked a day of celebration for many, it also intensified their concern about civil rights among LGBT people and religious people.
“I married people today, but in Michigan they can still get fired from their job for being gay,” Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said. “So we still have a way to go. But today we’re going to party, and tomorrow we’re going to fight like hell.”
Byrum approved the day’s first first same-sex marriage about 10:30 a.m., just minutes after the Supreme Court made its historic ruling. Mason residents Dawn Chapel, 54, and Lee Chaney, 53, exchanged vows.
Supporters of same-sex marriage worry because Michigan has no statute that bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment or public accommodation. The last effort to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect LGBT people failed in the Legislature.
The GOP-controlled Legislature recently passed a bill allowing faith-based adoption agencies to decline working with couples who don’t reflect their beliefs. The Legislature also has considered a Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Backers hail those proposals as protections for religious rights.
Conservative lawmakers are weighing their options. “I have always believed that marriage is the union of one man and one woman before God, said Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive. “While I respect the decision made today by the Supreme Court, I am concerned by the Court’s decision to disregard states’ rights in favor of the federal government. … and I will take time to consider any measures that seek to protect religious freedom in Michigan.”
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero described the ruling as a “sweet victory” for justice and equal protection, but emphasized the country must be “vigilant and determined” to secure the rights of all.
Lansing City Council’s ad hoc committee on diversity is currently reviewing the city’s eight-year-old Human Rights Ordinance to make sure its effective and enforceable.
The current ordinance prohibits discrimination on the basis of “actual or perceived race, religion, ancestry, national origin, color, sex, age, height, weight, student status, marital status, familial status, veteran status, political affiliation or belief, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, mental or physical limitation or source of income.”
Fourth Ward Council Member Jessica Yorko, a member of the diversity committee, said she’s hopeful the efforts to protect the rights of same-sex couples at the local level will inspire the Michigan Legislature to follow suit.
East Lansing has been known as a leader in human rights since 1972 when it became the first city in the country to pass rules protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination. Mayor Nathan Triplett said the city is now one of 39 that have those protections in place and is eager to remain proactive so it can support the ruling.
“I hope that voters will see, that Michiganders will see that a situation where you have the right to marry, but you can get fired from your job for it is completely unacceptable,” Triplett said. “Today is obviously a celebration, and there’s a great deal to be thankful for, but tomorrow we got a lot of work to do.”