Michigan Marriage Amendment Does Not Reach the Workplace, Judge Rules

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
September 27, 2005 12:00 am

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Same-Sex Partners Will Keep Benefits as a Result of ACLU Lawsuit

LANSING, MI — In a victory for Michigan same-sex couples, a state judge ruled today that public employers are not prohibited from offering domestic partner benefits to employees. The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan on behalf of 21 same-sex couples who were in danger of losing health care benefits after the state adopted a constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples in November 2004.

“”Today’s ruling affirms that Michigan voters never intended to take health insurance away from families,”” said Deborah LaBelle, the lead attorney for ACLU of Michigan. “”Employers, including the state of Michigan, can now continue to support fairness and equity in the workplace by offering domestic partner benefits. LGBT employees can also be assured that their partners and children will have access to health care.””

In the opinion, Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Joyce Draganchuk makes it clear that the constitutional amendment does not impact domestic partner benefits.

“”Health care benefits are not among the statutory rights or benefits of marriage. An individual does not receive health care benefits for his or her spouse as a matter of legal right upon getting married,”” wrote Judge Draganchuk. “”Health care benefits for a spouse are benefits of employment, not benefits of marriage.””

The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU in March, came after Governor Jennifer Granholm announced that domestic partner benefits for employees and families would be withheld, stating that a “”legal cloud”” exists on the interpretation of the constitutional amendment. However, the governor indicated that the decision could be reversed pending a judicial decision.

“”We’re hopeful that Governor Granholm will reinstate domestic partner benefits as part of the negotiated contract between the state and its employees as she has previously indicated she would,”” said Jay Kaplan, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Project.

State and local governmental agencies, represented by the Michigan Corrections Organization, Michigan State Employees Association, Service Employees International Union, AFSCME and UAW, had successfully bargained for a jobs benefits package that was scheduled for ratification by the State Civil Service Commission on December 15, 2004. The package included medical benefits and family medical leave for their families, including domestic partners and their children.

In a letter from Governor Granholm to the LGBT community, dated December 3, 2004, the governor stated that if the court found domestic partnerships to be lawful, the state “”will move forward with their implementation.”” Similarly, the city of Kalamazoo, which previously announced that it would discontinue its provision of domestic partner benefits as of January 1, 2006, also indicated that it would defer to the court’s interpretation of the amendment.

Attorney General Michael Cox, who issued a non-binding opinion in March claiming that the amendment bars the city of Kalamazoo from offering domestic partner benefits in future contracts, was named as a defendant in the lawsuit along with Governor Granholm.

The couples are represented by ACLU cooperating attorney Deborah Labelle of Ann Arbor; Thomas Wilczak, Barbara Buchanan, Kurt Kissling and Amanda Shelton the Detroit law firm of Pepper Hamilton; Nancy Katz of Plymouth; Professor Roderick Hills of the University of Michigan Law School; and ACLU staff attorneys Jay Kaplan and Michael J. Steinberg.

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

The ACLU of Michigan recently released “Families Under Attack: Real Stories of Michigan Families” to educate the public about the issues that LGBT families encounter on a daily basis. To read the publication, go to: http://www.aclumich.org/pubs/storyproject.pdf

To read the decision, go to: www.aclumich.org/pdf/briefs/dplawsuitdecision.pdf

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