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Same-sex marriage case means hard political decisions for Attorney General Schuette

Tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to take up the historic Michigan-based case that could determine the legality of same sex marriage throughout the United States.

The Court will hear arguments on four same sex marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The Justices will weigh the rights of voters who approved the bans, the rights of gay and lesbian couples who want to be married, and the rights of same-sex couples who are already married in states that allow it.

Aside from what the Justices have to sort through, politicians, especially the ones who’ve staked part of their careers on the marriage controversy, have a lot to sort through, as well.

And, for a case in study, we have to look no further than to Michigan’s own Republican state Attorney General Bill Schuette; former state Senator and Michigan Congressman who is now pretty plainly eyeing a 2018 gubernatorial run.

In the not-so-distant past, Schuette was Michigan’s conservative, one man-one woman, traditional marriage-protecting AG. But, as politicos like to say, his position has, ‘evolved,’ and there are two principal reasons why.

One is the Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision from last year (another Michigan-based case) where a majority of the Justices ruled that when voters directly make a decision, courts should give that some extra weight, some additional consideration.

Just last week a new Washington Post-ABC News poll put support for gay marriage at 61 percent

The other reason is public opinion. Support for gay marriage is increasing. Quickly. Just last week a new Washington Post-ABC News poll put support for gay marriage at 61 percent. And, that trend is similar here in Michigan.

So, meet the new Bill Schuette and his new message on the marriage controversy: It’s not about traditional marriage, it’s about the voters:

“From my standpoint, families come in all different, colors, shapes and sizes, and whether they’re single parents, or two parents, gay or straight, what we want to have is families that love their kids, and so we await this decision with great anticipation, and the sooner the Supreme Court makes this decision as to who decides -- the voters or the courts -- the better off this country will be.”

So, it appears, for the AG, this is an academic choice, not a social issue, as in, it doesn’t matter how the court rules as long as it settles the question.

But, Schuette has to be careful. Indeed, support for same sex marriage is growing among the public at large but, if you go back to that Washington Post-ABC News poll, there is still a group that opposes same sex marriage: Republicans. More than six out of 10 oppose same-sex marriage, and that margin goes higher among conservative Republicans. And, it’s conservative Republicans who are most likely to vote in a Republican primary for Governor come 2018.

A prospective candidate for governor certainly doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of history or the wrong side of public opinion, but he also, certainly, doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of the GOP base.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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