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By Jillian A. Bogater
Public universities and local governments cannot provide health insurance to the partners of lesbian and gay employees without violating the state constitution, according to a ruling announced Friday by the Michigan Court of Appeals.
Gay rights advocates said they would not stop their fight for health care rights.
“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 was made public Feb. 2, overturns a 2005 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 domestic partnerships 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.
“This decision is nothing more than the denial of rights, rights as
basic as health insurance, to same-sex couples working to care for and
protect their families,” said T Santora, Pride At Work co-president.
“The verdict negates already bargained benefits – domestic partner
benefits, which have existed in union contracts for decades. Anti-LGBT
activists are certainly not making any friends in the labor movement by
these continued attempts at invalidating collectively bargained
Doug Meeks, president of Michigan Equality, said the decision is a betrayal to voters.
“It is a sad day in Michigan jurisprudence when a court upholds discrimination, especially when supporters of 2004’s Proposal 2 told voters that this would not affect domestic partner benefits,” Meeks said. “The court is, in essence, upholding a deceit.”
Others called the ruling “tragic.”
“The Appeals Court could not have gotten it more wrong,” said Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director of Triangle Foundation. “Partner benefits have never been regarded as part of the marriage question. This ruling will result in families being robbed of their health care and other basic necessities that are fundamental to protecting their well-being. This is a tragic ruling.”
Triangle Director of Policy Sean Kosofsky agreed.
“This ruling is offensive and proves that the Court of Appeals is profoundly out of touch with other courts and with the majority of Michigan’s citizens,” Kosofsky said. “No other court in the United States has ruled that domestic partnership benefits are the same as marriage rights. The vast majority of Michigan’s citizens support domestic partner benefits and did not think they were banning such benefits when they passed 2004’s Proposal 2.”
The legal challenge was mounted by 21 gay couples who work for the city of Kalamazoo, universities and the state.
“The protection of the institution of marriage is a long-standing public policy and tradition in the law of Michigan,” Judges Kurtis Wilder, Joel Hoekstra and Brian Zahra noted in the unanimous ruling.