“People who support traditional marriage say they oppose legally recognizing domestic partners, particularly same-sex couples, through benefits because it affords them rights that should be reserved for married people. …Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan and one of the writers of the state’s amendment, says advocates wanted to ban gay marriage after neighboring Ontario, Canada, approved gay marriage in 2003. ‘We didn’t want individuals in homosexual relationships to go across the bridge, get married and then file lawsuits in Michigan demanding recognition of a marriage,’ he says.”
June 19, 2007
Michigan domestic partners face tough choices
by Marisol Bello, USA TODAY
Five years ago, JoLinda Jach and her partner, Barbara Ramber, had the same worries that every working couple with children faces: how to balance work and day care.
They decided that Ramber would stay home with their son and daughter and work part-time as a city bus driver. They could manage it, they thought, because Jach’s employer, the city of Kalamazoo, offered health benefits to partners of gay employees.
But come June 30, Ramber’s health care benefits will end.
A Michigan court ruled in February that public employers may not offer benefits to same-sex partners of employees because the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage recognized only a marriage between a man and a woman. Michigan public employers offered domestic partnership benefits only to same-sex couples. Now Jach and Ramber have to decide whether to pay for day care so Ramber can work full-time to get benefits or pay for low-cost insurance that will cover Ramber only in emergencies so she can stay home with the children.
“This is devastating for us,” says Jach, a systems analyst with the city of Kalamazoo for 19 years. “And it’s scary for Barbara. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ She changed her whole life based on the fact that we would have benefits. We were doing what we thought was best for our kids.” Jach is one of 21 public employees in Michigan with same-sex partners who have sued the state to keep their health benefits.
Their case, which they are appealing to the state Supreme Court, will set a standard for other states with similar amendments over whether public employers can offer benefits to their employees’ domestic partners, advocates on both sides of the issue say. For gay rights advocates, the pullback on benefits was an inevitable consequence after a flurry of states approved amendments banning gay marriage.
“These amendments are clearly intended to go way beyond the question of who can get married,” says Matt Coles, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s lesbian and gay rights projects. “We expect these issues to come up in more states, particularly now that the Michigan Court of Appeals has given this extremely broad interpretation.”
People who support traditional marriage say they oppose legally recognizing domestic partners, particularly same-sex couples, through benefits because it affords them rights that should be reserved for married people.
“The other side wants the same recognition as marriage, and obtaining domestic partner benefits is an important step in their overall goal,” says Michael Johnson, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which has worked to place many of the amendments on the ballots. “That’s why it is so vigorously opposed.”
In Michigan, the ruling covers all unmarried couples, but the state’s public employers did not give partner benefits to straight couples. “They did it that way because they believe heterosexual couples have the option of getting married,” says Jay Kaplan, an ACLU attorney representing the 21 employees. Employers including Kalamazoo and Michigan State University are trying to find other criteria to offer the benefits without contradicting the amendment.
Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan and one of the writers of the state’s amendment, says advocates wanted to ban gay marriage after neighboring Ontario, Canada, approved gay marriage in 2003.
“We didn’t want individuals in homosexual relationships to go across the bridge, get married and then file lawsuits in Michigan demanding recognition of a marriage,” he says.
Court challenges have been filed in other states with constitutional bans on gay marriage. In Ohio, State Rep. Tom Brinkman sued Miami University in Oxford for offering same-sex partner benefits. “I just don’t want there to be a special class for homosexuals,” says Brinkman, a Republican from Cincinnati. “That runs contrary to the constitutional amendment.”
Miami University professor Yvonne Keller and her partner, Susan Gray, say they don’t want a special class for gays and lesbians, either. “We should have as much rights as any family,” Keller says.
If the suit is successful, Gray and the couple’s 1-year-old daughter, Rylie, born to Gray, will not have health coverage through the university. “My heart sinks when I think about it,” Keller says. The couple’s other daughter, Dylan, 2, is Keller’s biological child, so her benefits are not jeopardized. “We have a lot of anxiety and fear and anger over having to deal with it.”
Unmarried couples lose legal benefits
by Marisol Bello, USA TODAY
States that have banned gay marriage are beginning to revoke the benefits of domestic partners of public employees.
Michigan has gone farthest, prohibiting cities, universities and other public employers from offering benefits to same-sex partners. In all, 27 states have passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as the legally sanctioned union of a man and a woman.
A Michigan court ruled in February that public employers may not offer benefits to unmarried partners, gay or straight, because of a 2004 amendment defining marriage. Government employers there had offered benefits only to gay couples.
Kalamazoo and the Ann Arbor school district have notified employees that they will end domestic partners’ benefits. An appeal is before the state Supreme Court.
Kentucky Attorney General Gregory Stumbo ruled this month that the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville may not offer benefits to domestic partners, gay or straight.
A U.S. appeals court last year upheld Nebraska’s amendment barring government employers from granting benefits, including health insurance, to same-sex couples. It didn’t address benefits for unmarried heterosexual couples.
Ohio state Rep. Tom Brinkman, a Republican, has filed a lawsuit to bar Miami University of Ohio from offering benefits to same-sex partners of employees.
“We’re in kind of a giant race, a historic race, with all these court cases,” says Matt Daniels, president of Alliance for Marriage, which lobbies for a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “When the dust settles, we’ll have a national standard for marriage. What is going on in the states is a dress rehearsal.”
Gay-rights activists say they are fighting for families, too.
“Anti-gay organizations have tried to attack currently existing protections for gays and lesbians and unmarried couples for a long time,” says Camilla Taylor, an attorney for the gay-rights organization Lambda Legal. “They don’t want to limit marriage between a man and a woman Ã¢â‚¬â€ they want to attack the protections that exist and make life difficult for non-traditional families.”
Most of the 27 state amendments were passed after a 2004 Massachusetts law allowed gay marriage. An additional 17 states passed marriage laws but did not amend their constitutions.