Gay-marriage supporters are launching a statewide campaign to educate Michigan residents about marriage rights. / Lauren Petracca, AP
DETROIT -- Gay-rights advocates launched a public relations campaign Thursday across Michigan to make what they said was a fresh start at persuading Michiganders that the state ban on gay marriage should be overturned.
"Our road map to victory calls for work on two tracks," said Emily Dievendorf, executive director of Detroit-based Equality Michigan.
The first step is to continue with a court challenge, "but if we don't get a favorable ruling, we intend on overturning Michigan's ban by ballot initiative in 2016," said Dievendorf in a news release.
Joining Equality Michigan in the campaign is the ACLU of Michigan and New York City-based Freedom to Marry, which is pushing similar "education campaigns" in a dozen states, said the group's state campaigns director, Richard Carlbom.
"Think of this as a presidential campaign, bringing this to the voters across the country," Carlbom said.
Ending Michigan's gay-marriage ban would promote values of "stability, responsibility and, most importantly, family" among gays and lesbians, said Sommer Foster, political advocacy director at Equality Michigan.
At a news conference in Pontiac, Foster introduced a gay couple who she said should be allowed to get married. Robert Tompkins, 29, and Jamiil Gaston, 23, live in Oak Park.
"Our friends support us (and) our families support us," said Tompkins, a technical training specialist at Marygrove College in Detroit.
Two Republican former state lawmakers stood with the couple, both saying that their party should end its opposition to gay marriage.
"My message to my friends in the Republican Party is, for those whose hearts have changed, this is not a time to be a bystander," said Chris Ward, a state representative in 2002-08 for the district that includes Brighton and Milford.
Ward, who is divorced, said he is not gay but feels strongly that "freedom does not stop in the bedroom."
Former state Rep. Leon Drolet of Macomb Township said he was one of three Republicans in the state House in 2004 to oppose banning gay marriage.
"I view this as being consistent with my principles that government should treat everybody equally, without regard to race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation," Drolet said.
The chairman of the Oakland County Republican Party said most Republicans support civil unions between gays and lesbians, just not actual marriages.
"If you called it a civil union instead of marriage but made all of the burdens and responsibilities and privileges the same, I would say that 95% of the members of the party would have no problem with it," said Jim Thienel of Waterford.
Most Republicans, for religious reasons, don't favor allowing same-sex marriage, Thienel said.
"I'm a Lutheran and I believe marriage is between a man and a woman," said Thienel, who owns an appliance repair company in Royal Oak.
Allowing gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions but not marriages "would continue treating a certain group as second-class citizens," Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said.
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