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DETROIT – A federal judge today temporarily prevented a state law from taking effect that would have barred many public entities from providing health insurance to the domestic partners of their employees, finding it to be unconstitutional.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Kirkland & Ellis LLP challenged the law on behalf of five gay and lesbian public employees, as well as their long-term domestic partners, who either lost their health insurance or would have lost their insurance as a result of the law.
"We're breathing a sigh of relief right now," said Peter Ways, an Ann Arbor teacher whose partner would have lost his benefits. "This law was clearly meant to target families like ours and to make us feel as though we didn't count."
In granting the preliminary injunction, U.S. District Court Judge David M. Lawson found that the law discriminated by forcing cities, counties, school districts, and community colleges to cancel family benefits for gay and lesbian employees in committed relationships while heterosexual employees had the ability to marry their partners to maintain health insurance. Same-sex couples cannot marry in Michigan.
Today's decision relies in part on the U.S. Supreme Court's Wednesday decision in Windsor v. United States, which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. Judge Lawson recognized, as the Supreme Court did, that the Constitution forbids the government from passing laws with a motive to discriminate against gay people. This is the first federal court decision applying the Supreme Court's reasoning to protect same-sex couples from discrimination in other contexts.
"This law served no purpose to the state of Michigan other than to needlessly discriminate against hard-working families," said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. "It's hard to encourage talented people and their families to work for public employers in Michigan when they're denied the ability to take care of each other."
The law was particularly irrational because it allowed municipalities to provide health insurance coverage for other family members – cousins, aunts, nephews – but excluded same-sex domestic partners.
"The court rightly determined that this policy unconstitutionally discriminated against a minority of Michigan families," said Amanda C. Goad, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. "All hardworking state employees and their families should have the peace of mind of being able to look after each other."