Popping the Question: Why Same-Sex Marriage in New York but Not in Michigan?
New York passed same-sex marriage legislation June 24. What about Michigan? The executive branch of Michigan's government said it's not a priority.
On many streets in the state of New York, the celebratory confetti has just begun to settle in honor of the historic same-sex marriage legislation passed June 24.
Many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people are welcoming New York to "marriage in the 21st century," but with 44 states still without same-sex legislation, many more LGBT people and LGBT organizations are left to ponder: Why not us?
More locally — why not Michigan?
"When I got the news the marriage equality bill had passed the New York state Senate, I went to Stonewall," said the Rev. Pat Bumgardner, the senior pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) of New York. "The crowd was amazing. I didn't know the governor had signed the bill into law until the next day."
The church's branches and the federal government have a history that dates back to 1970, when the first lawsuit was filed on behalf of same-sex marriage by MCC's founder, the Rev. Troy Perry.
Today, MCC branches can be found all over the world, including here in Ferndale.
Why New York and not Michigan?
“New Yorkers, by a solid majority, were ready for marriage equality and ready to move on to other pressing matters,” said Bumgardner.
“I think that the good news about New York is that our legislative process does not provide for the kind of ongoing bickering, once a law is passed, that we see in other parts of the country,” he said.
On July 25, when the law takes effect, New York will join Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont and Washington, DC, as a place where same-sex marriages are legal.
"I think the people have already spoken on this issue (with 2004's Proposal 2)," said Sara Wulfer, Gov. Rick Snyder's press secretary.
Proposal 2, approved in 2004, states that the union of a man and a woman would be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose in Michigan.
The proposal eliminated not only the opportunity of marriage for same-sex couples, but it also eliminated civil unions.
Wulfer explained that the governor's focus has been on the economy and creating jobs. She added that the governor has not spoken about any same-sex legislation because it has not come up.
"Until someone revisits that conversation on Proposal 2, I think this is where we are," said Wulfer.
While Proposal 2 may deny same-sex marriages, there are a number of other state laws that some LGBT people say deny them basic human rights.
"In Michigan, we lack everything. It is perfectly legal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation," said Emily Dievendorf, director of policy at Equality Michigan, an LGBT rights organization.
"Even if they brought it to court, they still have no right to fight it," she said.
She named lack of adoption rights and hate-crimes laws as just some of the things that Michigan needs to fix before it can talk about same-sex marriage.
"I would not even attempt to examine the society in New York (that legalized same-sex marriage)," said Dievendorf. "There are just so many things happening on so many different levels.
"They (same-sex marriage states) already had the basic laws and rights for LGBT persons that Michigan lacks," she said. "We have a really long way to go."
Human rights 'good for business'
While it may seem that the government has to choose between fixing the Michigan economy and fixing Michiganders' rights, Dievendorf and other LGBT voices argue that the issues go hand and hand.
"Research has shown that you cannot retain and attract jobs in a community that is deemed unacceptable," said Dievendorf. "(Human rights) is good for business."
"I don't see how it could not boost our economy," said the Rev. Mark Bidwell of the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, which is based in Ferndale. Bidwell said he has seen firsthand that areas where all people have equal rights thrive economically.
"First, I think that the state of New York and New York City, much like other major cities, have a very diverse culture," he said. "They work closely with people from all different backgrounds. In Michigan, it is not that type of state, especially on the west side."
Bidwell said he understands Snyder's focus on the economy.
"That is a good priority to have," he said. "But human rights is a good priority, too."
Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter said the two should work in concert.
"You can and should work on both," he said. "We have to, because they are related.
"I would put it this way," Coulter said. "I think Michigan is ready, but our leaders in Lansing are not. Gay people are part of the solution, not the problem."