ACLU Deeply Disappointed by Appeals Court Decision to Ban Domestic Partner Benefits, Vows to Appeal

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
February 2, 2007 12:00 am

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DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union today expressed deep disappointment over the Michigan Court of Appeals ruling that the state’s marriage amendment prohibits public employers from offering domestic partner benefits.

“We strongly disagree with the court’s decision today and plan on appealing to the Michigan Supreme Court,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “It was never the intention of Michigan voters who approved the marriage amendment to take health care benefits away from Michigan families.”

The decision, which is dated February 1 but was not made public until this morning, overturns a ruling by Judge Joyce Draganchuk that public employers may offer domestic partner benefits without violating the marriage amendment. The lower court decision was appealed by Attorney General Mike Cox, who intervened as a defendant.

When voters passed the amendment in November 2004, they were told that it would not impact domestic partnership benefits that provide health coverage for same-sex couples. The ACLU argued that a public employer voluntarily offering benefits to same-sex domestic partners did not in turn create a marriage.

“Providing health insurance to same sex domestic partners is vastly different from recognition of a marriage and the over one thousand benefits and rights that marriage confers,” the ACLU argued in the appeal brief.

Furthermore, the two groups that lead the campaign for passage of the amendment, Citizens for the Protection of Marriage and the American Family Association of Michigan, both insisted that the language concerned “marriage only.” Campaign director Marlene Elwell, according to published reports, said: “This has nothing to do with taking benefits away. This is about marriage between a man and a woman.”

“After today’s decision, many men and women in Michigan with children now stand to lose their benefits,” said Deborah A. Labelle, Lead Cooperating Attorney for the ACLU of Michigan. “We must assure LGBT families that they are protected and will have access to health care. We urge Michigan not to treat them as second class citizens.”

In April 2005, the ACLU of Michigan filed the lawsuit on behalf of 21 families in Ingham County Circuit Court seeking a declaratory ruling that Proposal 2, which amended the Michigan Constitution to prohibit marriage for same-sex couples, allows public employers to offer health care insurance as domestic partner benefits to lesbian and gay families.

The 21 families are represented by Labelle; Jay Kaplan, ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project Staff Attorney; Michael Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director; Moss and ACLU of Michigan Fund Cooperating Attorneys Thomas P. Wilczak, Barbara Eckert Buchanan, Kurt A. Kissling, Amanda J. Shelton, Roderick M. Hills, Jr. and Nancy S. Katz.

To read the Michigan Appeals Court decision, go to www.aclumich.org/pdf/marriageamendmentopinion.pdf

To read Judge Draganchuk’s decision, go to www.aclumich.org/pdf/briefs/dplawsuitdecision.pdf

To read more about National Pride At Work v. Granholm, including the legal documents, go to www.aclumich.org/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=426

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