Gay rights activists plan a 2016 ballot drive to overturn the 2004 constitutional ban approved by voters. Democratic senators last week introduced legislation to put the gay marriage question to voters in 2014, but odds of it passing a Republican-controlled Legislature are slim.
"We want to go to the ballot, win and make it a sustainable win that is an indication of a climate change in Michigan," said Emily Dievendorf, managing director of Equality Michigan, a statewide gay rights organization.
She estimated needing to raise $12 million for a ballot initiative in 2016, a presidential election year when the cause could be helped by higher Democratic voter turnout, particularly among young voters. The time until then will be used to raise funds for the signature gathering, push passage of bills prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians — supported by nearly seven in 10 voters — and educate the public.
Same-sex marriage is legal in 12 states. Each of them previously allowed same-sex couples to jointly adopt children and included protections for gays and lesbians in anti-discrimination laws, measures not on the books in Michigan, Dievendorf said.
"This is going to be an extensive effort," she said. "Michigan is still way behind in those areas."
The state's gay marriage ban also prohibits civil unions and led public employers to rewrite policies to continue providing health insurance and other benefits to the domestic partners of gay employees.
While the 2004 measure received 58 percent support 8 ½ years ago, a poll released last month indicates a significant shift in the public's mood.
Fifty-five percent of likely voters said they would vote to amend the state constitution to allow same-sex marriage, according to poll from EPIC-MRA in Lansing. Forty-one percent were against with 4 percent undecided.
The conventional wisdom is that ballot proposals typically need at least 60 percent backing in the months before the vote, in part because it's easier to urge a no vote.
Gary Glenn, co-author of the state's 2004 ban and president of the American Family Association of Michigan, said he is convinced voters would retain the law limiting marriage to one man and one woman. He promised to defend the measure.
"You can count us among those who simply do not believe that everybody everywhere all of a sudden has changed their mind on this issue," Glenn said. "We think these polls are simply a reflection of an echo chamber, a Hollywood and mainstream media culture that tells everybody that everybody everywhere suddenly overnight now supports so-called homosexual marriage. We simply don't believe it."
Some people responding to polls "prefer not to be seen as out of what the media is telling them is the mainstream," he said, but vote the opposite in the privacy of a voting booth.
With the U.S. Supreme Court expected to rule this month in two same-sex marriage cases, Senate Democrats said it was the time to propose their legislation. They know it is a longshot getting two-thirds backing in the House and Senate this two-year session yet want to be ready for what the high court decides and keep the issue alive.
Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, has avoided taking a position on gay marriage.
"It might be time to have citizens help us put this back on the ballot in front of our community, in front of the voters of the state," said bill sponsor Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor. "What's exciting is we have several different tools in our toolbox right now, a lot of different ways we can get at making this change in Michigan. The legislative remedy is just one of them."
A federal judge is waiting to rule on the constitutionality of Michigan's gay marriage ban until seeing how the nation's highest court handles cases involving a gay marriage ban in California as well as the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The state case involves two Detroit-area nurses, Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, who are challenging a law that prohibits them from jointly adopting children because they're not married.
"I think the residents of Michigan are ready to overturn this," DeBoer, 42, said of the same-sex marriage ban.
She said as more gays and lesbians come out of the closet and get engaged, their friends, families and co-workers are seeing the unfairness of their plight.
"It's an archaic law that really bans equal rights for people," DeBoer said.