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ASSOCIATED PRESS: Court Sides with MI Marriage Amendment on Issue of "Gay Benefits"

February 2, 2007

“The state Court of Appeals ruled Friday that Michigan’s ban against gay marriage also blocks public universities and state and local governments from providing health insurance benefits to the partners of gay workers. …The court said the constitutional amendment doesn’t prevent public employers from giving benefits to unmarried partners if they’re based on something other than a marriage-like union. Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan and co-author of the amendment, said universities and governments could let all their employees designate a beneficiary — a grandmother, gay partner or uncle.


ASSOCIATED PRESS
Lansing, Michigan – February 2, 2007

Court rules gay couples can’t receive health insurance benefits

LANSING, Mich. — Associate professor Alexandra Stern says a big reason she moved from California to Ann Arbor in 2002 was because the University of Michigan provides health care benefits to her lesbian partner.

Now she’s wondering if they should stay.

The state Court of Appeals ruled Friday that Michigan’s ban against gay marriage also blocks public universities and state and local governments from providing health insurance benefits to the partners of gay workers.

“It’s very upsetting when you put down roots in a place. You’re a taxpayer and you contribute. But then you get slapped in the face,” said Stern, 40, a medical historian and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology. She and her partner, Terri Koreck, are trying to adopt a baby.

“If the climate becomes really hostile, we would seriously consider moving elsewhere,” Stern said.

A three-judge panel cited the “plain language” of a 2004 voter-approved constitutional amendment making the union between a man and woman the only agreement recognized as a marriage “or similar union for any purpose.”

“The protection of the institution of marriage is a longstanding public policy and tradition in the law of Michigan,” wrote Judges Kurtis Wilder, Joel Hoekstra and Brian Zahra.

Twenty-one gay couples will seek a stay and appeal to the state Supreme Court on Monday. If they aren’t successful, they will sue in federal court, said attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

The unanimous ruling reverses a 2005 decision by an Ingham County judge who allowed public employers to provide the benefits. Circuit Judge Joyce Draganchuk said criteria established by employers to qualify for same-sex benefits weren’t akin to marriage because married people get many more rights than domestic partners.

Republican Attorney General Mike Cox, whose legal opinion barring same-sex benefits in future contracts spurred the ACLU lawsuit, said the constitutional amendment is unambiguous.

“The people set the direction. They were pretty clear,” he said in a phone interview. “In Michigan, government cannot use anything that looks like a marriage as a basis for giving out benefits if it isn’t actually a marriage.”

The ruling also applies to unmarried heterosexual couples.

Gay rights advocates and Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who criticized the ruling, have said the public never intended to ban same-sex benefits. But the appeals court said exploring voters’ intent was unnecessary because the law is clear.

“It is a cornerstone of a democratic form of government to assume that a free people act rationally in the exercise of power, are presumed to know what they want, and to have understood the proposition submitted to them in all of its implications,” the judges wrote.

They said the case isn’t about residents’ lifestyle choices. But their ruling was a blow to the gay community.

“It’s hugely disappointing,” said Gary Lindsay, 53, an office assistant at Michigan State University whose partner of 17 years gets health coverage along with family medical and bereavement leave. “That’s one of the primary reasons for working at this university _ the fact that they are open to people’s diversity and they strive to treat people fairly.”

Besides Lindsay, 15 of the plaintiffs work for employers who now offer same-sex benefits — the city of Kalamazoo, various universities and a county health department covering the Lansing area. Another five plaintiffs are employed by the state, which in 2004 agreed to provide same-sex benefits but delayed them until courts ruled on their legality.

The court said the constitutional amendment doesn’t prevent public employers from giving benefits to unmarried partners if they’re based on something other than a marriage-like union.

Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan and co-author of the amendment, said universities and governments could let all their employees designate a beneficiary — a grandmother, gay partner or uncle.

University attorneys have said the cost of covering health care for those who aren’t spouses, children or domestic partners would be “astronomical.”


You can read the Associated Press article here.

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