Michigan Gubernatorial Candidates Want Marriage Equality Overturned

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Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidates Ryan Kelley and Tudor Dixon at a primary debate.
Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidates Ryan Kelley and Tudor Dixon at a primary debate.

All five Republican candidates for Michigan governor debated Thursday night just over a month before the Republican primary and they had plenty to say about the LGBTQ+ community.

The hourlong sold-out event covered topics including drag queens, marriage equality, and God. There was a cash bar available for attendees, Michigan Advance reports.

The Brighter Michigan PAC, a right-wing political action committee, sponsored the debate.

Several Republican gubernatorial candidates called for the United States Supreme Court to reopen the door to state-level bans on marriage equality allowed under the landmark 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

The debate included businessman Kevin Rinke, far-right activist Ryan Kelley, chiropractor Garrett Soldano, pastor Rev. Ralph Rebandt, and conservative media personality Tudor Dixon.

Soldano expressed support for same-sex "unions" in the debate but wished same-sex marriages were referred to differently due to his Catholic faith tradition's definition of marriage.

After nearly 50 years of protection for abortion rights, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month, casting doubt on the protected legal status of the marriages of LGBTQ+ people. A concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas urged the court to "correct the error" when cases upholding contraception, same-sex sexual activity, or same-sex marriage used similar legal logic.

Kelley called for the court to reconsider marriage equality as a right for Americans.

"They need to revisit it all" and "give the power back to the states," Kelley said during the debate.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who is gay and married, is one of many marriage equality supporters concerned the state's conservative court could roll back "seminal precedents" that struck down bans across the country.

Last week, Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan, told Bridge Michigan that the Roe decision suggests the High Court is determined to dictate social policy. 

While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, Michigan voters enacted an amendment to the state's constitution banning such marriages and civil unions in 2004.

The amendment, if reactivated, would prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex marriages by defining marriage as a union between "one man and one woman." 

Likewise, Kelley holds that belief, he said. Following his arrest last month for participating in an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in 2021, in which supporters of former President Donald Trump attempted to prevent Congress from certifying his election loss, he has gained strength in GOP primary polls, according to Business Insider

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"I think there are many people that they want to be able to sleep with whoever they want to, and that should be their right" but "should not be pushed on our children and made into mainstream," Kelley added.

As a pastor at Oakland Hills Community Church in Farmington Hills, Rebandt supports the state's old same-sex marriage ban.

"The Michigan Constitution says that for the betterment of society, marriage is between a man and a woman," Rebandt said, paraphrasing the amendment. "I draw the line where God does."

Tudor Dixon and Kevin Rinke have supported passing new laws restricting classroom discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity, but neither addressed the question of marriage equality.

Nessel, who helped overturn Michigan's marriage equality ban as a lawyer before taking office, predicted the Roe decision would prompt "many lawsuits" asserting states' rights to outlaw same-sex marriage.

Anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments are also prevalent in Michigan's election.

Last month Nessel joked about having "a drag queen for every school" — which was in response to Republicans' anti-LGBTQ+ attacks. In turn, Dixon promised she would bar drag queens from schools and ban students from learning about things like critical race theory

Dixon and several GOP lawmakers held a press conference earlier Thursday at the Capitol vowing legislation action against drag queens. However, there is no evidence of drag queens being at Michigan schools, Michigan Advance reports.

Any reversal of further rights would contribute to the court's appearance of illegitimacy, Nessel said.

"We fought so hard to have marriage equality, for so many years, and it's only been seven years" since the 2015 decision, she added. Moreover, reversal would "do even more damage to the United States Supreme Court."

"Nobody's going to respect their rulings," she said.