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Published: Saturday, 10/30/2004

Constitutional amendments: Voters will weigh in on marriage, gaming

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Michigan voters will be asked to decide a pair of constitutional amendments on Election Day - one a gay marriage ban, the other giving voters the right to decide by ballot future gambling and gaming issues.

The gay marriage referendum - Proposal 2 on the ballot - came about after courts in Massachusetts, California, and elsewhere ruled in favor of same-sex marriages earlier this year, sparking a national debate on the subject, said Merlene Elwell, campaign chairman for Citizens for the Protection of Marriage, the Lansing-based group that proposed the amendment. Even though state law bans gay unions, Ms. Elwell argued that it is not enough.

"We saw what was happening with activist judges, and we decided to protect it by getting it into the Constitution," she said.

Amendment opponents say the referendum language supersedes prohibiting gay marriage and could deprive same-sex couples - and possibly some heterosexual couples - health-care benefits for which they already qualify.

"I think [the proponents] have multiple purposes [for the amendment], and that's the key," said Dana Houle, political director of Coalition for a Fair Michigan. "It seems clear the language would lead to domestic-partner benefits being overturned."

Ms. Elwell said the proposed amendment "wasn't written for any purpose other than marriage is between a man and a woman."

Mr. Houle accused Ms. Elwell's group of distracting the electorate from important issues and pushing for additional legal action for an issue already covered by state law.

"Voters are more concerned about the economy, jobs, and the war in Iraq," he said. "It's already a law in Michigan, and it will still be a law if [the amendment] passes," he said.

Michigan is one of 11 states with similar referendums on Tuesday's ballot, including Ohio.

If Michigan's Proposal 1 passes, voters, through a constitutional amendment, will get to approve any new state lottery offerings utilizing table games or player-operated devices. A coalition that includes education groups, racetracks, and a number of small-business owners opposed to the issue are pitted against a group that includes casino owners, the state's Indian gaming tribes, and the tourism industry, among others.

The education groups believe that putting gaming issues in the hands of voters will hurt the expansion of lottery games, from which schools collect $600 million annually, said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokesman for Vote No on Proposal 1. Similarly, racetrack owners are concerned the proposal would keep them from expanding their games at the tracks, and business owners who handle lottery games believe they will be hurt if the games can't be expanded.

"The concern is not just impacting potential revenue, but for impacting existing revenue," Ms. Rossman-McKinney said.

The Indian casinos and up to three Detroit casinos would be exempt from the amendment, another sore point with the proposal's opponents.

Proposal 1 proponents say the competition issue raised by the opponents is overblown and misleading.

"It's a very simple issue. The voters get to decide; it's no more or less complicated than that," said Roger Martin, a spokesman for Proposal 1 supporters. "Obviously, the other side is trying to confuse and anger folks."

Mr. Martin's group spent $1 million to collect the 440,000 signatures needed to get the proposal on the ballot and will have outspent their opposition 3-1 by Election Day. Polls show voters favor the amendment.

But history is not on the side of Proposal 1 or Proposal 2 proponents. In the past two even-year elections, there were six constitutional amendment proposals on the ballot. Only one of them passed.

Contact George Tanber:

at gtanber@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.



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