Permitting same-sex marriage isn't just about love, democratic representatives said Monday. It's in the state's best interest too.
"It's bad for attracting and retaining young talent," said Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor). "It sends a bad message to our children about how to treat peers and family members and worse it sends a message to the rest of the world that MI is not a forward-thinking, competitive state. It sends a message that we are a backward-thinking, regressive state."
Zemke, with fellow representatives Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) and Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) proposed a four-prong "Freedom to Marry" bill in front of the Capitol.
The proposed bill would: (1) allow voters to repeal a 2004 constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriages in Michigan; (2) change the language of current laws to allow for marriage equality; (3) allow Michigan to recognize marriages that happen outside the state; and (4) urge the U.S. Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.
The timing coincides with the end of the Supreme Court's current session, in which a decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, could come in the next couple of days.
"We felt this was an opportunity in Michigan to talk about our values, what we see as a set of priorities in the state of Michigan," said Singh.
DOMA defines a marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Its repeal, while not making same-sex marriage legal under the Constitution, would allow for equal treatment of same-sex couples under the law. That is, that inheritance, social security and income taxes would function similarly for both homosexual and heterosexual couples.
The Obama administration initially defended DOMA, but later changed its position, perhaps a symbol of what Michigan Democrats called a shift in public opinion.
"The arc of history is long but it bends toward justice," said Irwin, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. "And I think right now, as we stand here today, we can feel that arc bending."
Democrats point to a May poll from EPIC-MRA that shows 55 percent of Michiganders would vote to amend the State Constitution to allow same-sex marriage. Contrast that with 58 percent that approved the ban in 2004.
"More and more people have been coming around to the idea that same-sex marriage is not a threat to heterosexual marriage," Irwin said. "That people should be allowed to love, and marry, and grow families. That's what this country is all about. Freedom."
The Democrats say they have not had any formal conversations with Republicans, but informal conversations have been encouraging.
"I've had many many conversations with folks from both sides of the aisle on this particular issue," said Zemke. "And I think if we were to see it go up for a vote, I think we'd see it pass."
Coupled with a Pew poll that shows that 70 percent of Americans think the legalization of same-sex marriage is inevitable, supporters say they're optimistic.
But Michigan State Senator Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) says he thinks such a bill "probably would not pass." Instead he speculates the issue could become a ballot initiative in 2016. To win, he says, Democrats will have to shoot for a civil union instead of marriage.