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Marriage Inequality in Michigan: Affecting Family Ties

PHOTO:As marriage equality hangs in the balance in Michigan, many same-sex couples and their families face uncertainty in their lives. Photo credit: Emily Roesly/morguefile.
PHOTO:As marriage equality hangs in the balance in Michigan, many same-sex couples and their families face uncertainty in their lives. Photo credit: Emily Roesly/morguefile.
May 5, 2014

LANSING, Mich. - The legal limbo over same-sex marriage in Michigan is affecting the ties that bind for hundreds of families. That includes Kathleen LaTosch of Ferndale and her partner of 20 years. They want the same legal protections of other married couples, but as the issue of marriage equality bounces between courts, she says loving families like hers are going without the legal supports enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

"They don't have all of the benefits that come from a marital relationship. There's over a thousand different pieces of legislation, pieces of law, notations in our laws, that refer to the institution of marriage in order to confirm benefits," LaTosch says.

LaTosch is also a social worker, and she says same-sex couples with children are unable to jointly adopt, which adds stress and emotional insecurity to the family.

Additionally, many other same-sex couples are denied basic rights afforded to married couples such as hospital visitation or the ability to make medical decisions in an emergency. LaTosch is a consultant on inclusion initiatives and a member of the National Association of Social Workers in Michigan, which is among the groups supporting marriage equality.

LaTosch says without a legal union, aging same-sex couples face a slew of challenges, including costly legal fees when a partner passes, and the inability to access spousal or survivor benefits from Social Security. She adds that even financial assets, such as a home, are not protected.

"The fact that they don't have both their names on the deed is very common; it's very common," she stresses. "They lived as friends to the public. So, they may not have all the paperwork in place; they may not have those resources."

She says if protections could just be offered now for all couples, it would eliminate many legal battles in Michigan and other states. But ultimately, marriage equality needs to be heard by the Supreme Court, she adds.

"Minority rights have never succeeded based on minority voice alone, based on sheer numbers. So, when you have a minority group they just don't have the power to protect themselves, and that's why you need federal support," she explains.

In March, 300 same-sex couples were married within 24 hours, after a U.S. District Judge's declared the state's gay-marriage ban unconstitutional. A federal appeals court put the decision on hold, and Gov. Snyder said the state will not recognize the unions while the case is on appeal. The ACLU filed a lawsuit to guarantee that the marriages are recognized.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - MI