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DETROIT NEWS: Court Rejects Same-Sex Benefits for State Employees

February 3, 2007

“The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled…that public employers and universities can’t provide health insurance and other benefits to the partners of same-sex couples without violating the Michigan Constitution. …Matt Coles, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project in New York City…said the ruling could hurt Michigan’s competitiveness. ‘Particularly in high-tech and academia where there is real competition to attract the best people, this is one of the things that people check out, and not just gay people,’ Coles said. Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan and a co-author of the marriage amendment, said Coles’ argument is specious and irrelevant. ‘It is not a surprising decision; it is exactly what we expected,’ Glenn said.”


DETROIT NEWS
Detroit, Michigan – February 3, 2007

Court rejects same-sex benefits
Gays working for Michigan government, colleges lose health coverage for partners; appeal planned.
by Paul Egan

Michiganians in same-sex relationships who work for state or local governments or universities face the imminent loss of health care insurance for their domestic partners as a result of a court ruling Friday. The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in a case involving the city of Kalamazoo that public employers and universities can’t provide health insurance and other benefits to the partners of same-sex couples without violating the Michigan Constitution. Tens of thousands of Michigan public-sector employees are eligible for such same-sex benefits under collective bargaining agreements, though only a few hundred are in same-sex relationships with partners who would use them.

The court ruled such arrangements violate a constitutional amendment that state voters approved in 2004 that bars public employers from recognizing same-sex unions for any purpose. “We’re pleased that the court upheld the rule of the people,” said Rusty Hills, a spokesman for Attorney General Mike Cox, who had appealed the Ingham Court decision approving same-sex benefits.

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which argued the case in favor of same-sex benefits, strongly disagrees with the decision and plans to request a stay and appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, said legal director Michael J. Steinberg.
“It was never the intention of Michigan voters who approved the marriage amendment to strip health insurance away from Michigan families,” Steinberg said. The effects of the ruling could soon be far-reaching. In Kalamazoo, the city Friday began notifying five employees in same-sex relationships that they could lose their benefits.

Elsewhere, UAW Local 6000, which represents about 17,000 state employees, negotiated benefits for same-sex partners but those benefits were on hold pending resolution of the legal dispute. The city of Ann Arbor and major universities that offer same-sex benefits said they were studying the ruling and would not take immediate action. Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, as well as Detroit, do not offer same-sex benefits.

At the University of Michigan, about 200 same-sex partners are collecting such benefits, a spokeswoman said. At Eastern Michigan University, 19 domestic partners are affected, officials said. “It’s very disappointing and it’s very frustrating,” said Dennis Patrick, a communications professor at EMU. “We feel like we’re losing something that’s very important to our family.” Patrick’s partner, Tom Patrick, who is a part-time teacher, gets his health insurance through Dennis Patrick’s employment at the university and spends the time he is not working looking after the couple’s four adopted children. If the ruling stands, he may have to work full-time, Tom Patrick said.

Private companies such as the major automakers, banks and others offer benefits to same-sex spouses and those arrangements are not affected by the ruling. The ruling also could affect unmarried heterosexual couples, though the agreements the court examined only applied to same-sex couples.

Twenty-seven states have passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman. If Friday’s ruling stands, Michigan will be the first state to remove health-care benefits from same-sex spouses as a result of such an amendment, said Matt Coles, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project in New York City. Coles said the ruling could hurt Michigan’s competitiveness. “Particularly in high-tech and academia where there is real competition to attract the best people, this is one of the things that people check out, and not just gay people,” Coles said.

Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan and a co-author of the marriage amendment, said Coles’ argument is specious and irrelevant. “It is not a surprising decision; it is exactly what we expected,” Glenn said.

The unanimous ruling by Judges Kurtis Wilder, Joel Hoekstra and Brian Zahra struck down an earlier ruling by an Ingham County court judge in a case brought by National Pride at Work Inc. against the city of Kalamazoo. Gov. Jennifer Granholm said she hadn’t read the court ruling, but was disappointed with the decision. “I support domestic benefits,” she said.


You can read the Detroit News article here.

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