MI Gay Rights Group Wins Benefits Ruling

September 28, 2005 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Judge Joyce Draganchuk of the Ingham County Circuit Court in Michigan has ruled that domestic partners of public employees in the state can get health benefits.

In March, Attorney General Mike Cox ruled that when state voters passed an amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman that precluded public employers from offering benefits to same-sex couples (See  MI Marriage Vote Means Public Employee Same-Sex Partners Can’t Receive Benefits ).   Governor Jennifer Granholm announced that domestic partner benefits would be eliminated from a negotiated contract between the state and state employees .   The city of Kalamazoo followed suit.

National Pride at Work, a gay rights group, and 21 gay couples sued the state and the city of Kalamazoo to get their benefits reinstated, saying the voters did not intend for benefits for same-sex couples to be ended (See  MI Couples: Amendment Didn’t Kill Public Same-Sex Benefits ).

Liz Boyd, a spokesperson for Granholm, told the Michigan Daily that the benefits would be reinstated, following the judge’s ruling, in the state-employee contract that takes effect October 1.   The city of Kalamazoo has said it will also defer to Draganchuk’s decision for its policy.

In her opinion, Draganchuk said, “Health care benefits are benefits of employment, not benefits of marriage,” according to the Michigan Daily.   She was referring to the wording of the amendment, which says its purpose is to preserve the “benefits of marriage.”

The news report notes that an appeal is still pending of a 2003 decision in favor of partner benefits in Ann Arbor Public Schools, and says rulings that conflict with Draganchuk’s would provide a basis for an appeal to a higher court.