By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
LANSING – Gay family activists are calling a new lawsuit to prevent Michigan State University from providing domestic partner benefits to families headed by same-sex couples “a mean-spirited attempt to harm LGBT employees of universities and their families.”
The suit was filed July 5 in Ingham County Circuit Court by the American Family Association of Michigan and the Thomas More Law Center. It has not yet been assigned a judge or court date, officials said.
In September, Judge Joyce Draganchuck, a justice with the Ingham County Circuit Court, ruled that the anti-family Proposal 2 does not forbid public employers from providing employment-related benefits to same-sex headed families. That suit, National Pride At Work v. Granholm, is now at the Michigan Court of Appeals.
The new suit was filed as part of a strategy to forbid the benefits at every level of state government – “municipal subdivisions, the executive branch of the state government and then the state universities,” according to Patrick Gillen, the attorney representing the AFA and Thomas More Law Center.
“I don’t think the National Pride at Work suit will result in a decision concerning the ability of state universities to provide same-sex benefits because those plaintiffs do not have the standing needed to secure a judicial decision,” Gillen said.
Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s LGBT Project, disagreed.
“Our complaint requested a declaratory judgment as to all public employers, including municipal employers and state university employers,” Kaplan said. “The standing of our plaintiffs, including employees of MSU, was never successfully challenged in our lawsuit. One does not have to show an injury to obtain a declaratory judgment but it’s obvious that these plaintiffs would be harmed if their health insurance was taken away from their families and children.
“The bottom line is that Judge Dragonchuk already ruled that voters never intended to take away health insurance away from LGBT families. This lawsuit is a mean-spirited attempt to harm LGBT employees of universities and their families.”
Michigan State University officials did not return a call placed by BTL; a MSU spokesman declined to comment on the pending litigation when contacted by The Associated Press.
Pro-gay family activists were upset by the suit.
“This attack on health insurance is the most anti-family thing you can do,” said Sean Kosofsky, director of policy for Triangle Foundation. “Extremists who support discrimination against gay and lesbian people are working to dismantle protections for families and children, yet they claim to be Christian and pro-family. Once again, the AFA has been exposed as morally bankrupt activists with an agenda of hurting tax-paying gay and lesbian families.”
Asked about contentions that the proponents of Proposal 2 lied when they claimed that the anti-marriage initiative would not affect employment-related benefits, Gillen said, “I think that that’s a mischaracterization of what was actually said in the lead-up to Proposal 2.”
Printed brochures from Citizens to Protect Marriage, the anti-gay group which backed Proposal 2, told voters that the ballot initiative was, “ only about marriage. This is not about rights or benefits or how people choose to live their life.” Gary Glenn, executive director of the American Family Association of Michigan, was quoted at various times as saying both that the amendment would not affect the benefits and that it would not affect existing benefits, only future ones.
Gillen added that the LGBT press and pro-gay family organizations were quite clear about the potential impact of the ballot proposal, and said, “My position is there’s not flip-flop and that people weren’t paying attention. A difference was made between currently existing benefits and the ability to have those benefits in the future.”