Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 27, 2013

Supreme Court decisions a 'first step' for same-sex partners

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Two Supreme Court decisions likely will reinstate same-sex marriage in California and wipe away part of a federal anti-gay marriage law that has kept legally married same-sex couples from receiving tax, health and pension benefits.

But the court’s decisions Wednesday won’t directly help same-sex partners in Michigan, who are constitutionally banned from marrying each other.

“I know neither decision created a constitutional right for same-sex marriage,” said Steve Morse of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northwest Michigan. “What the court seems to be doing is approaching it piecemeal.”

Jim Carruthers, a Traverse City commissioner, called the court’s two decisions a “first step, but a big step for this country.”

“This is a most wonderful day and we should all celebrate together at stopping discrimination based on one’s sexual-orientation,” said Carruthers, who is gay.

In significant but incomplete victories for gay rights, the Supreme Court struck down a provision of a federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denied federal benefits to married gay couples. As a result, all couples living in marriage equality states will get equal access to all the federal rights and benefits based on marital status.

M’Lynn Hartwell, a Traverse City social justice and human rights advocate, praised the decision. She added that same-sex couples banned from marrying each other should have these same rights.

“There are a thousand and one benefits to someone who’s been married for five minutes versus someone who has been together for 50 years and has no rights,” she said.

The other decision was a technical legal ruling that said nothing about same-sex marriage, but left in place a trial court’s declaration that California’s Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. That outcome probably will allow state officials to order the resumption of same-sex weddings in California in about a month.

The high court said nothing about the validity of gay marriage bans in California and roughly three dozen other states, including Michigan where voters approved a ban on same-sex marriage in 2004.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette issued a written statement that said the state’s power to define marriage still stands.

“The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states, not the federal government, retain the constitutional authority to define marriage,” he wrote. “Michigan’s Constitution stands and the will of the people to define marriage as between one man and one woman endures in the Great Lakes State.”

Michigan’s gay marriage ban is being challenged in Detroit federal court. The judge heard arguments in March, but delayed his decision until the Supreme Court weighed in on the matter.

The Supreme Court ruled in the California case that the traditional marriage activists who put Proposition 8 on California ballots in 2008 had no legal standing to defend the law in federal courts after it was invalidated by lower court rulings.

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” said Chief Justice John Roberts.