Originally published by The Michigan Messenger
Wednesday (05/07) at 9:29 PM
LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling which holds same-sex domestic partner benefits offered by public employers in the state violate the state’s Constitutional amendment, is being condemned by civil liberties advocates, elected officials and some of the people who stand to lose their benefits.
The 5-2 majority decision issued Wednesday holds that recognizing same-sex domestic partners by providing health care violates the Constitutional amendment’s clause of “…or any other similar union.”
“The decision is both flawed and unfortunate,” said Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU, on a conference call with reporters. The ACLU handled the case before the Ingham County Circuit Court, the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court. Moss argued the ruling was flawed because it ignored voter intent in passing the 2004 “Marriage Amendment.” During all three hearings, the civil liberties group argued voters were consistently told the amendment only concerned the definition marriage, not about domestic partner benefits. Polls in the state show a majority of the state’s residents believe partners of same sex relationships should be eligible for domestic partner benefits.
“It is a sad day in Michigan when we decide which children, which families, in Michigan are valuable to cover in Michigan,” said Tom Patrick, 50, of Superior Township. Patrick and his partner Dennis receive health care benefits through Dennis’ job at Eastern Michigan University. Patrick, who works part time at Plymouth-Canton Schools as a math instructor, said he and his partner used the benefits to care for their four adopted children, ages 12, 9, 8 and 6 and their 13-year-old foster child.
“I am left with the decision of paying for benefits out of pocket, or going back to work full-time. Both of these decisions impact my family,” Patrick said.
The AP is reporting 375 people who are employed by public employers could be affected by the decision, but officials from ACLU argue many of them are protected, for the time being.
In February of 2007 the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that providing domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples violated the Marriage Amendment, but opened the door to creation of programs which do not recognize the gender of the person identified as another eligible individual. Since then, the city of Kalamazoo, Ingham County, Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor Public Schools, Farmington Public Schools, Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Michigan Tech have all adopted pilot programs with alternative criteria. Lansing Community College, the state’s only community college to offer domestic partner benefits voted last fall to end its program for contract employees.
“I am saddened by the court’s decision,” said Curtis Hertel, Jr. an Ingham County Commissioner representing East Lansing. “As someone who believes that healthcare is a basic right I am very disturbed to have someone’s health care taken from them because of their sexual orientation.”
Supporters of domestic partner benefits have argued that had they not taken the action to create the pilot program, today’s ruling would have effectively ended health care coverage for many same-sex couples and their children.
The Marriage Amendment ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court is the first time a state high court has addressed the impact of the amendment on domestic partner benefits, and the amendment has been passed by at least 11 other states. Florida is currently considering a similar amendment to the Florida Constitution, and media reports from there indicate supporters of the amendment are telling voters this is about marriage and will have no impact on domestic partner benefits.
Kaplan warned other states to pay attention to this ruling. “This ruling certainly shows how broadly this language can be interpreted.”
ACLU officials said they were uncertain if they would appeal the high court’s ruling to the federal courts.
— Todd A. Heywood is the capitol correspondent for Between the Lines, the statewide LGBT newspaper of Michigan, as well as a Fellow for the Center for Independent Media. His work can be found regularly on www.Pridesource.com and www.MichiganMessenger.com. This article re-printed with permission.