“Gay rights advocates said the (Michigan Supreme Court) ruling is devastating but also are confident that public-sector employers have successfully rewritten or will revise their benefit plans so same-sex partners can keep getting health care. …
Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan, said last year that he didn’t anticipate further suits on the issue. But he said Wednesday: ‘You never say never.’ Glenn, who co-wrote the (Marriage Protection Amendment), said the legality of the new policies depends on whether they’re written broadly enough to cover many other unmarried employees.”
May 7, 2008
Michigan high court says gay
partners can’t get health benefits
by David Eggert
The Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. (AP) â€” The Michigan Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a voter-approved ban against gay marriage also prevents governments and state universities from recognizing domestic partnerships to provide health insurance to the partners of gay workers.
The 5-2 decision affects up to 20 universities, community colleges, school districts and governments in Michigan with policies covering at least 375 gay couples.
Gay rights advocates said the ruling is devastating but also are confident that public-sector employers have successfully rewritten or will revise their benefit plans so same-sex partners can keep getting health care.
The constitutional amendment, which passed 59 percent to 41 percent in November 2004, says the union between a man and woman is the only agreement recognized as a marriage “or similar union for any purpose.”
The majority ruled that while marriages and domestic partnerships aren’t identical, they are similar because they’re the only relationships in Michigan defined in terms of gender and lack of a close blood connection. Voters “hardly could have made their intentions clearer,” Justice Stephen Markman wrote, citing the law’s “for any purpose” language.
He was joined by Chief Justice Clifford Taylor and Justices Maura Corrigan, Elizabeth Weaver and Robert Young Jr.
Dissenting Justices Marilyn Kelly and Michael Cavanagh countered that statements made by backers of the measure before the election suggest they only intended to prohibit gay marriage, not take away employment benefits. The dissent also noted that gay partners who qualify for health care aren’t given other benefits of marriage â€” equal rights to property, for instance.
“It is an odd notion to find that a union that shares only one of the hundreds of benefits that a marriage provides is a union similar to marriage,” Kelly wrote.
The ruling is believed to be one of the first from a state high court interpreting the scope of measures barring gay marriage. Alaska courts went the other way, ruling that it’s unconstitutional to deny benefits. Ohio courts found that domestic violence laws don’t conflict with a ban on gay marriage.
But numerous states have yet to grapple with how their gay marriage bans apply to same-sex partner benefits.
At least 27 states have passed constitutional bans, mostly since 2004 in response to gay marriages being performed in Massachusetts. At least 18 of those states, including Michigan, have broader amendments that also prohibit the recognition of civil unions or same-sex partnerships.
“It’s a sad day in Michigan when we decide which children and which families are valuable enough to cover,” said Tom Patrick, 50, who gets health insurance through his partner, Dennis Patrick, a professor at Eastern Michigan University. The couple from Washtenaw County’s Superior Township has adopted four children and has a foster child, one with a developmental disability. Tom Patrick works part-time to care for the kids and said it would hurt the family to have to pay for his benefits out of pocket.
The Patricks joined 20 other gay couples and filed a lawsuit in 2005 when Republican Attorney General Mike Cox interpreted Michigan’s measure as making unconstitutional same-sex benefits at the city of Kalamazoo and elsewhere.
Sixteen plaintiffs worked for employers who offered same-sex benefits. Another five were employed by the state, which in 2004 agreed to start providing same-sex benefits but delayed them until courts could clear up their legality. Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration is reviewing the ruling.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which represented the couples, called the decision “flawed and unfortunate.” It pledged to work with public employers to write “neutral” policies ensuring employees’ partners don’t lose health coverage, but also expressed uneasiness and warned that gays will have to go through more hoops.
New policies no longer acknowledge domestic partnerships but make sure “other qualified adults,” including gay partners, are eligible for medical and dental care. The adults have to live together for a certain amount of time, be unmarried, share finances and be unrelated.
“The university believes all current benefit offerings are in full compliance with Michigan law,” University of Michigan spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said.
It remains to be seen whether the revised policies will be challenged in court.
Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan, said last year that he didn’t anticipate further suits on the issue. But he said Wednesday: “You never say never.”
Glenn, who co-wrote the 2004 measure, said the legality of the new policies depends on whether they’re written broadly enough to cover many other unmarried employees.
The ACLU is weighing whether a federal lawsuit is warranted, while Cox applauded the decision.
The dissent argued that the ballot committee sponsoring the gay marriage ban consistently assured voters that the initiative was only about protecting marriage.
But the majority said other supporters and even opponents of the amendment said ahead of time that benefits would be prohibited by the amendment.
“The role of this Court is not to determine who said what about the amendment before it was ratified, or to speculate about how these statements may have influenced voters,” Markman wrote. “Instead, our responsibility is, as it has always been in matters of constitutional interpretation, to determine the meaning of the amendment’s actual language.”