ACLU Challenges Michigan Domestic Partner Health Care Ban
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DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit today asking a federal court to strike down a discriminatory and unjust new state law that bans many public entities from providing health care insurance to the domestic partners of their employees. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of school teachers, city and county workers and their domestic partners who will lose their health insurance as a result of the law.
“This is not about politics or ideology for us,” said Peter Ways, an Ann Arbor teacher whose partner will lose his benefits. “This is about real families who are facing the real consequences of discriminatory laws. Just like our colleagues whose families will continue to receive health insurance, we want to care for our families.”
The four couples named in the lawsuit are in long-term committed relationships. Several of the domestic partners need ongoing medical care for chronic conditions. Barbara Ramber, for instance, has glaucoma and arthritis and faces potential blindness if she cannot access care, and Gerardo Ascheri has high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The other couples also worry about finding comprehensive and affordable insurance coverage. Carol Kennedy anticipates having to pay $800 per month for comprehensive coverage because of a family history of breast cancer. Peter Ways and Joe Breakey are considering moving back to Washington because finding comprehensive coverage for Breakey would be extremely expensive for the couple.
“Although justified by the governor as a cost-cutting measure, the numbers don’t hold up,” said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. “The reality is that the legislation was intended to disenfranchise LGBT families. When a key policy priority has been to attract top talent and resources to the state, our elected officials have sent a clear message that Michigan is out of step with the kinds of public policies that attract talent and grow our economy.”
The lawsuit charges that the new law discriminates by categorically denying domestic partners access to benefits and violates the constitutional right to equal protection by forcing gay and lesbian employees in committed relationships to carry the financial hardship and anxiety of being uninsured, while allowing heterosexual couples to marry and receive family health protections. In addition, the law only bars domestic partners from receiving health care coverage, while allowing government employers to offer benefits to all other family members, including parents, siblings, uncles and cousins.
“It’s unconstitutional for the state of Michigan to deprive a small number of workers the means to take care of their loved ones when other similarly situated workers do have access to family coverage,” said Amanda C. Goad, staff attorney for the ACLU LGBT Project. “In an economic downturn, the state should be passing laws to make it easier for families to take care of each other, not to take protections away.”
Proponents point to the “high cost” of domestic partner health care coverage as the motivating force to enact such a law. However, an analysis of programs across the state proves these numbers to be wildly inaccurate. In fact, studies show such coverage, in addition to attracting and retaining the best employees, costs well under one percent of the health care budget of public employers who voluntarily provide these benefits. In addition, unlike married couples, domestic partners must pay taxes to the state on their health insurance benefits – revenue the state would lose under the new law.
The families are represented by Goad and John A. Knight of the ACLU LGBT Project, Moss, Michael J. Steinberg and Jay Kaplan of the ACLU of Michigan, and Amy E. Crawford and Bradley H. Weidenhammer of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.
For more information on this case, including photos and biographies of the clients, please visit: www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/bassett-et-al-v-snyder