“Conservatives, however, are lauding the decision and say the (Michigan Court of Appeals) interpreted the (marriage) amendment’s clear wording. ‘Since two-thirds of all the (state) marriage amendments are more similar to Michigan’s language, who’s to say that the Michigan decision won’t be the prevailing precedent in the future?’ said Gary Glenn, the president of the American Family Association of Michigan who helped write Michigan’s measure.”
Lansing, Michigan – February 7, 2007
Michigan court is first to ban benefits for gay partners
by Dave Eggert
When a Michigan appeals court recently ruled that partners of gays and lesbians who work for government and state universities can’t be covered by their partners’ health insurance, gay rights advocates nationally became alarmed. They fear the decision could encourage similar rulings in 17 other states whose bans on gay marriage could be interpreted to prohibit domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples. Michigan, one of 27 states with constitutional bans on gay marriage, is the first to rule that public employers can’t offer health benefits if they’re based on treating same-sex relationships as similar to marriage.
“It really is just a matter of time before we start seeing wholesale litigation in this area,” said Carrie Evans, state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group in Washington, D.C. In Alaska, the only other state to rule so far on the benefits given to the same-sex partners of public employees, the courts went the other way, ruling that it’s unconstitutional to deny such benefits.
But more than a score of states have yet to grapple with how their gay marriage bans apply to same-sex partner benefits.
For Dennis Patrick, 43, a professor at Eastern Michigan University whose partner, Tom Patrick, is covered under Dennis’ health insurance, losing the court case has been tough. The couple has adopted four foster children, one with a developmental disability. Tom Patrick works part-time to care for the kids. “If he has to go back to work full-time, that hurts our family. Or we have to pay for health benefits out of pocket, which hurts our family,” said Dennis Patrick, one of 21 plaintiffs who sued the state. He worries the ruling could immediately strip Tom’s insurance unless it’s halted by the Michigan Supreme Court, where the case will be appealed. “It’s pretty scary,” he said. “To me that either demonstrates a lack of understanding of how this can affect our family or other families, or it’s just mean and cruel.”
In its ruling, the three-judge panel said “the people, in an act of self-government, could rationally conclude that the welfare and morals of society benefit from protecting and strengthening traditional marriages.” Twenty-three states have passed constitutional bans on gay marriage since 2004, largely in response to gay marriages being performed in Massachusetts. Eighteen of those states, including Michigan, have broader amendments that also prohibit the recognition of civil unions or same-sex partnerships.
Michigan’s appeals court decision caught some by surprise.
“This is pretty unprecedented. People are very, very surprised and shocked by it,” said Jeffery Montgomery, executive director of the Triangle Foundation, a gay rights group in Michigan. “It just seems like such a needless slam on gay and lesbian families. The health and livelihood of their families is at stake in this ruling.”
Conservatives, however, are lauding the decision and say the court interpreted the amendment’s clear wording. “Since two-thirds of all the marriage amendments are more similar to Michigan’s language, who’s to say that the Michigan decision won’t be the prevailing precedent in the future?” said Gary Glenn, the president of the American Family Association of Michigan who helped write Michigan’s measure.
At least 375 university and government employees in Michigan could be affected by the ruling, according to a survey of public employers by The Associated Press. Numbers weren’t available for two school districts and two community colleges.
Up to 20 public universities, community colleges, school districts and local governments in Michigan have same-sex benefits policies. Universities, which employ most of those affected, argue that not being able to offer the benefits would hurt recruitment of faculty and staff. “A great public university, especially at this time in Michigan, must be inclusive, competitive and welcoming,” said Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon.
Other states also are examining the reach of their gay marriage bans. The Ohio Supreme Court is considering whether the state’s amendment prevents domestic violence charges against unmarried people. A county judge threw out an Ohio lawmaker’s suit challenging Miami University’s same-sex partner benefits policy, saying he had no legal standing to sue. But the issue could crop up again.
Three lesbian couples this week sued to force New Mexico to provide health insurance to partners of state retirees. University of Wisconsin officials have said that state’s amendment makes it unlikely the Legislature will add health insurance benefits for domestic partners.
Monte Stewart, president of the Utah-based Marriage Law Foundation, which opposes gay marriage, said the benefits issue is likely to stay in state courts for now because advocates don’t want the U.S. Supreme Court stripping rights from the gay community.
“It’ll depend on the language of each amendment itself, and how broadly or narrowly the amendment should be construed,” Stewart said.
You can read the Associated Press article here.