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Gary Glenn, Michigan conservative activist, lawmaker, dies

Gary Glenn
Gary Glenn
Gary Glenn

Gary Glenn, a prominent conservative voice and same-sex marriage opponent, has died.

He was 65.

In 1999, Gary Glenn became the state president of the American Family Association of Michigan.

From that position, in 2004 Glenn co-wrote Proposal 2. The ballot question sought to amend the Michigan constitution to prevent the state from recognizing or performing same sex marriages.

“Marriage between a man and a woman has for thousands of years proven its benefit to society,” said Glenn. “That’s why our society has an interest in affirming it, encouraging it, even in financially incentivizing it.”

The campaign was part of a national effort among conservatives to block gay marriage. In Michigan, it was a success. 58% of Michigan voters approved the amendment.

Glenn’s work on the gay marriage ban made him well-known in conservative circles, and it drew the ire of Michigan’s LGBTQ+ community.

“Gary Glenn, as well as organizations such as the American Family Association and other similar organizations, have caused harm to the LGBTQ community by intentionally demonizing us.....as a people,” said Erin Knott, the executive director of Equality Michigan, “And they have used intimidation tactics to support their policy positions and to deny our basic rights as human beings.”

During a 2013 interview with Michigan Radio, Glenn expressed confidence Michiganders would continue to support the same sex marriage ban.

But he admitted he was concerned the U-S Supreme Court would strike down such laws, which it did, in 2015.

By then, Gary Glenn had transitioned from activist to state lawmaker.

Glenn was elected to the first of two terms in the State House in 2014 representing the Midland area.

Zach Gorchow is the executive editor and publisher of Gongwer, a news service that covers the state capitol. He says observers expected Glenn’s legislative priorities would continue to focus on anti-LGBTQ+ policies.

"But when he got to the legislature, he didn’t leave those views behind, no doubt about it he still carried those views, but that really wasn’t his focus. He became very focused on typical legislative issues,” said Gorchow.

Gorchow says one of Glenn’s priorities dealt with opening up Michigan’s electricity market.

The very conservative Republican even crossed political and ideological lines to work with one of the legislature’s most liberal Democrats on legislation to promote renewable energy.

He was not successful on that front in office. But Gorchow says other lawmakers have taken up the cause.

“For example, there’s a big push right now to allow more freedom for people to generate their own electricity at their residence,” said Gorchow. “If we were to see something like that become law, [Glenn] could maybe say I was a part of helping set the stage for that to happen.”

Gary Glenn ran unsuccessfully for a state senate seat in 2018. By then, Glenn had been fighting stage 4 prostate cancer for several years.

In June 2021, Glenn’s family announced his cancer was no longer in remission.

In recent years, public opinion has shifted away from the conservative positions he advocated. But Glenn remained optimistic that the pendulum would swing back...

“Whatever polling data may show about young people today, I don’t think necessarily translates into what they’ll think about issues like this when they’re older, become fathers, become mothers, get married,” said Glenn.

Gary Glenn often talked about what he called the “traditional” family. But over the course of Glenn’s life the “typical” family in the U-S has changed radically.

More and more families are headed by a single parent, or parents who live together but aren’t married, or mixed families.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Census estimates that five years after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, there were about a million same-sex households in the United States. More than half were married.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.