The Michigan Constitution says only heterosexual couples can marry

Michigan state capitol in Lansing.

Michigan state capitol in Lansing. Phillip Hofmeister (Wikimedia)

Michigan state capitol in Lansing.Phillip Hofmeister (Wikimedia)

Michigan state capitol in Lansing.

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Constitution says voters must be at least 21 years old and that only heterosexual couples can marry. It also sets term limits for the state’s members of Congress.

Courts or the U.S. Constitution have rendered those restrictions illegal, of course, yet they remain in print in the state constitution, which is the bedrock of Michigan law.

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a respected group that publishes reports on public policy, believes it’s time to ask voters to erase parts of the constitution that are dead. The call comes just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country, specifically overturning Michigan’s 2004 ban, among others.

“Let’s make our document reflect reality,” said Eric Lupher, president of the CRC, as the group is known.

“The importance really rests in the transparency of government,” he said. “I don’t think you should have to have judicial case law by your side while you’re reading through the constitution to know you only have to be 18 to vote and you don’t have to own property to vote on property taxes.”

Only voters can change the constitution, even to erase something that’s no longer relevant. The Legislature, with a two-thirds vote, can put the question on the ballot, which is an easier route than the other path, collecting thousands of petition signatures.

With general elections held every two years, Lupher said lawmakers could easily put the question on the statewide ballot in November 2016.

“It’s pretty straightforward, in my book,” he said.

Lupher’s group has identified aspects of the state constitution that should be deleted. They include the 21-year-old voting age, congressional term limits, gay marriage ban and restrictions on who can vote on property taxes and membership of county boards.

Not everyone shares the CRC’s enthusiasm for tidying things up.

“It makes the Michigan Constitution somewhat sloppy,” acknowledged Devin Schindler, who teaches at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. “But legally, none of these provisions have any effect anyway. It’s difficult for me to get excited about rewriting the constitution solely for the sake of appearances.”

Sen. Rick Jones, a Republican from Grand Ledge and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said eliminating dead parts “seems reasonable” but he wonders if the public would be turned off by a long ballot just to make those changes.

“I have copies of the Michigan and U.S. constitutions to give to people for free. I almost never get requests for a Michigan Constitution,” Jones said. “I don’t think people are sitting around worrying we’ve got to get to the ballot and fix this thing. They’re worried about jobs and roads.”

Gov. Rick Snyder is focusing on improving the state’s economy, although amending the constitution to bring it up to date is a “good discussion to have,” spokesman Dave Murray said.

Lupher believes the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision could bolster the CRC’s efforts to clean up the state constitution, as most voters are familiar with the case and would understand an attempt to erase Michigan’s ban from the document.

“To relate current news to the question before voters helps with education. It creates a great opportunity,” Lupher said.

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