With chants of “gay families matter” and “repeal Rick”, more than 150 citizens from throughout the state took to the steps of the Michigan State Capitol Building on a frigid Wednesday afternoon.
The protesters were expressing their anger over a recent law, signed by Governor Rick Snyder. Public Act 297 of 2011 prevents any public employer from granting medical or other benefits to their employees’ domestic partners.
“This recent ban on domestic partner benefits was the final straw,” said Cassandra Varner, Director of Communications from Affirmations of Ferndale, Mich. “It was legislation targeted at the LGBTQ community in a very real way and we wanted our voices to be heard.”
Affirmations was one of nine LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community centers that came together to plan and hold the rally. It marked the first time the organizations had collaborated on a statewide initiative.
“It was time for change and it was time we stood together and stopped being quiet,” said Varner.
The ban, which went into effect upon signing, was introduced by Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville. Agema believes the ban is simply making official what the voters and courts already said was unconstitutional.
Agema could not be reached for comment, but he has addressed the issue previously.
“In 2004, the people voted for the Defense of Marriage Act,” he said in a December 2011 interview, “that marriage is between a man and a woman. In 2005, the attorney general opinion was for public employees, you can’t pay same-sex unmarried benefits. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled the same. Yet those very employees and institutions continue to do it. It’s long overdue that we make public institutions and employees abide by the rule of law.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already promised to contest the law in the state’s courts.
And while the ban on equal benefits was the catalyst for the rally, speakers focused on several injustices they felt the LGBTQ community has faced.
“Governor Snyder, remove the barriers to equal protection under the law,” said Roland Leggett of Equality Michigan. “Remove the barriers of equalized employment, to health care and tax breaks. Remove the barrier to equal access to all that we pay into daily.”
At times, lawmakers, including Gov. Snyder, exited the Capitol near the site of the rally, prompting small groups of protesters to follow them on-foot, chanting the mantras of the event. This occurred on three separate occasions, with the crowd erupting into boisterous cheers for the political hecklers.
It was more than the LGBTQ community that turned out to oppose the new law. Mona Hubbard of Leslie attended the rally at her daughter’s urging.
“I think that, like the signs say, it’s civil rights; it’s rights for everyone,” said Hubbard. “It’s marriage and it’s equality. It’s not just gay this and gay that.”
This won’t be the last time Michigan LGBTQ community centers work together to further their cause, said Varner.
“Our voices can be heard not just in southwest Michigan,” she said, “but throughout the state. It’s time for people to start doing something. All people in Michigan deserve to be equal.