Government and Law

Michigan statutes are getting same-sex marriage updates

July 24, 2015
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With Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban overturned, there are several statutes within Michigan’s legal framework that need to be updated to bring the state’s laws in line with the U.S. Constitution.

Richard McLellan, chair of the Michigan Law Revision Commission, last week told the Michigan Civil Rights Commission that his organization would be identifying all the statutes where changes might need to be made and making recommendations to legislators.

A bipartisan legislative agency consisting of four Republicans and four Democrats, four of whom are legislators and four of whom are citizens, the Law Revision Commission regularly advises the legislature on problems within the law and recommends reforms.

“I assure you that it is a never-ending battle,” McLellan said. “There are many defects and many anachronisms that come up.”

The commission regularly takes on tasks of this sort, particularly when lobbyists or other groups have not taken them up.

“We don’t get into issues if they are well represented by other groups,” McLellan said.

At first glance, McLellan said he found 142 statutory sections dealing with the term “wife,” 132 with the term “husband” and 199 using the term “marriage” that will need to be reviewed.

To further identify areas of the law that might require changes, McLellan said a researcher has been hired to conduct a review of legal materials provided by law firms regarding the legal impacts of same-sex marriage as well as statutory changes other states have undergone.

“There are many states that are way ahead because they’ve had marriage equality for a number of years and they probably had to change their statutes to accommodate this change,” McLellan said.

What the Law Revision Commission does not plan to do is get into the battle between religious freedom and same-sex marriage.

“You have, on the one hand, a First Amendment right to gay marriage found in the Constitution and you also have a right to have no law restricting your freedom of religion,” he said.

“The clash of those two constitutional principles and strongly held views of different parts of our society will probably lead to litigation, and it may lead to efforts to amend statutes.”

But the Law Revision Commission will stick to the technical issues within Michigan law.

“No matter what your position is on marriage equality, the law should be clear,” McLellan said. “Yet there are other areas where there is a wider choice of options. We may identify, but not pursue them.”

McLellan said his hope is to be able to amend multiple acts with only a handful of bills.

“In Michigan you can normally only amend a single public act with a particular legislative bill,” he explained. “We, the commission, (in the past) have been given special authority to amend or to submit legislative bills that amend multiple acts.”

He said in the 1990s, the agency was able to use five bills — as opposed to 105 — to have the outdated term “justice of the peace” removed from Michigan’s laws.

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