Federal Court Rules 2011 Law Prohibiting Domestic Partner Benefits Unconstitutional

By |2014-11-13T09:00:00-05:00November 13th, 2014|Michigan, News|

LANSING – A law signed in December 2011 to prohibit local units of government from providing health benefits for unmarried partners has been struck down by a federal court because it “unlawfully discriminates against same-sex couples.”
The ruling, from Judge David Lawson of the Eastern District Court of Michigan, says the law was the result of animus towards same-sex couples and had no rational basis. Lawson’s ruling prohibits the state from enforcing the law, called Public Act 287 of 2011.
“The Public Employee Domestic Partner Benefit Restriction Act, Public Act 297 (2011), violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution because it unlawfully discriminates against the same-sex partners of public employees without a legitimate basis for doing so,” Lawson wrote in his opinion, released late Wednesday afternoon.
The law was signed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder Dec. 22, 2011 and went into immediate effect.
The legislation was a response by conservative Republicans to a move by the Michigan Civil Service Commission decision to extend other eligible individuals (OEI) with health insurance under state employee benefit packages. OEI programs, the state Supreme Court had ruled, did not violate the state’s prohibition on recognizing same-sex marriages or relationships.
The legislation was pushed by Rep. Pete Lund, a Macomb Republican, and Rep. Dave Agema, a Republican from Greenville. Agema has a long, proven history of animus towards the LGBT community, including posting an anti-gay screed to his Facebook page which used information from a white nationalist. Agema’s anti-gay antics earned him a mild rebuke in the 2014 State of the State address from Gov. Rick Snyder and calls from prominent GOP leaders for his resignation from his position as a GOP National Committeeman.
Lawson ruled that there was plenty of evidence the law was based in animus toward the LGBT community.
Despite the ruling’s findings that the law was motivated by anti-gay animus, Gov. Rick Snyder’s office issued a statement claiming the governor continues to “believe all discrimination is wrong, period.” The Republican governor’s office declined to explain how this statement could be accurate in light of the court’s findings. Snyder’s office declined to comment on the ruling while lawyers review it for possible appeal.
But spokesperson Dave Murray says the legislation was “about ensuring fiscal responsibility and stewardship.”
That claims was thoroughly debunked in Lawson’s 35 page ruling.
“As noted earlier, the State did not have to be correct in its estimate that Act 297 would save it money, if indeed it held that view at the time,” Lawson wrote. “But the lack of substance behind this stated justification does little to dispel the ‘suspicion that bigotry rather than legitimate policy is afoot.'”
Lawson noted that the majority of local governments providing same-sex domestic partner benefits were doing so out of federal monies or local tax revenues. He further noted that the law would not result in any savings from state revenue sharing to local governments. And finally, Lawson noted that the move could
actually cost the state money – in both lost tax revenues, since such benefits were taxed as income, and in increased state provided health care services and costs.
Jay Kaplan, of the LGBT Project of the ACLU, says he hopes the governor will not appeal the ruling. He said such a ruling would be “a waste of money,” and called the law “shameful.”

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