MI High Court Hears Same-Sex Benefits Appeal

November 8, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyers told justices at the Michigan Supreme Court this week that a lower court was wrong when it ruled that a gay-marriage ban also barred the availability of same-sex domestic partner benefits in the state.

Michigan ACLU attorney Deborah LaBelle insisted that the 2004 ballot measure solely focused on the legal definition of marriage – not issues like whom should be eligible for workplace benefits, according to a news report in the Lansing, Michigan Star News newspaper.

“No one thought that they were stripping those health benefits from those people and their children,” LaBelle asserted, according to the news report. “There’s not a word about those kind of health benefits in there, there’s not even a word of domestic partnerships in there.”

The ACLU is appealing the February 2007 Michigan Court of Appeals decision blocking the same-sex domestic partner benefits in the wake of the ballot referendum (See  Michigan Court Rebuffs Appeal for Same-Sex Domestic Partner Benefits).

Matt Frendewey, spokesman for the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, told the newspaper the voter referendum was clear. The initiative, approved by 58% of voters in the state, read “the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.”

“I think (the ACLU’s argument) offends the intelligence of the citizens of Michigan,” Frendewey declared.To uphold the state’s gay-marriage ban, employers need to use standards other than marriage to determine who receives benefits, Frendewey said.

LaBelle countered that health benefits are granted by employers and are not solely a function of one’s marital status.  “Heterosexuals recognize that simply giving a health benefit to someone doesn’t make it equivalent to a marriage,” LaBelle said, according to the newspaper. “To say the fact that there is some eligibility criteria for domestic partnership that overlap with marriage and then to equate those two as similar unions for purposes of looking at this amendment I also think is absurd.”

The opinion in the Michigan Court of Appeals case is  here .