MI Couples: Amendment Didn't Kill Public Same-Sex Benefits

August 17, 2005 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A group of 21 gay couples told a Michigan judge that the state's 2004 constitutional amendment defining marriage as involving one man and one woman does not preclude public employers from providing domestic partner benefits.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Deborah LaBelle told Ingham Circuit Judge Joyce Draganchuk that in approving the constitutional amendment, Michigan voters never intended to take health care benefits away from the partners and children of same-sex couples, according to news reports.

The suit filed for National Pride at Work, a gay rights group, and the same-sex couples, followed a December 2004 announcement by Governor Jennifer Granholm that domestic partner benefits would be eliminated from a negotiated contract between the state and state employees. Also added as a defendant later was the city of Kalamazoo, which announced it too would cut off the domestic partner benefits as of January 1, 2006.

Even though Granholm has said she would pay the same-sex benefits to state employees if it was authorized by the courts, Attorney General Mike Cox disagreed.

Assistant Attorney General Eric Restuccia, representing Cox, said the issue of health-care benefits may not have been at the heart of the campaign debate over the amendment, but that its language was clear. The amendment said government recognition could be conferred on marriage “or similar union for any purpose” only to relationships between one man and one woman, he said.

The “for any purpose” language has to mean something, Restuccia said, and it is not ambiguous. The health-care benefits offered to same-sex couples by public agencies in Michigan are virtually identical to the benefits offered to married couples, he said

Thirty-five states have adopted laws prohibiting same-sex marriages, and four other states have incorporated into their constitutions language similar to the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage solely as the union between a man and a woman, according to the Denver-based National Conference of Sate Legislatures (NCSL), the news reports said. Another three states have laws that predate the federal law that also define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, according to the NCSL.

The domestic partner or same-sex partner benefits issue has been a major political hot button in recent years and has lead to numerous legislative and legal battles.