ACLU Encouraged that Michigan Supreme Court to Hear Domestic Partner Case

May 24, 2007

DETROIT Encouraged by the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision today granting a request to appeal the Court of Appeals’ ruling that the state’s marriage amendment prohibits public employers from offering domestic partner benefits; the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan will ask the court to remand the case to the lower court to determine voter intent.

“It was never the intention of Michigan voters, who approved the marriage amendment, to take health care benefits away from Michigan families,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “We are excited about this development and hope that the Michigan Supreme Court will give these families another chance at justice by asking a lower court to explore voter intent.”

In February 2007, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled to overturn a trial courts decision that public employers may offer these benefits without violating the “marriage amendment.” The ruling was appealed by Attorney General Mike Cox, who intervened as a defendant.

When voters passed the amendment, 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 appellate brief.

Furthermore, the two groups that lead the campaign for passage of the amendment, Citizens for the Protection of Marriage and American Family Association of Michigan both insisted that the language concerned “marriage only.”  Campaign director Marlene Elwell, according to published reports, said: "This has nothing to do with taking benefits away. This is about marriage between a man and a woman.” 

“Americans across the country have demonstrated their support for equal compensation and benefits for all hardworking people,” said Deborah Labelle, Lead Cooperating Attorney for the ACLU of Michigan.” It is now up to the Michigan Supreme Court to ensure that this is true for Michigan, its hardworking employees and their families.”

In April 2005, the ACLU of Michigan filed this lawsuit on behalf of 21 families in Ingham County Circuit Court seeking a declaratory ruling that Proposal 2, which amended the Michigan Constitution in November 2004 to prohibit gay marriage, allows public employers to offering health care insurance, otherwise called domestic partnership benefits, to lesbian and gay families.

The 21 families were represented by Labelle;  Jay Kaplan, ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project Staff Attorney; Michael Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director; Moss and ACLU of Michigan Fund Cooperating Attorneys Thomas P. Wilczak, Barbara Eckert Buchanan, Kurt A. Kissling, Amanda J. Shelton, Roderick M. Hills, Jr. and Nancy S. Katz.

To read the Michigan Supreme Courts’ order to grant leave for appeal, go to: http://aclumich.org/pdf/dpsupremecourtappeal.pdf
 
To read the Michigan Appeals Court decision, go to: http://aclumich.org/pdf/marriageamendmentopinion.pdf

To read the trial courts decision, go to:  www.aclumich.org/pdf/briefs/dplawsuitdecision.pdf

To read more about National Pride At Work v. Granholm, including the legal documents, go to http://www.aclumich.org/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=426

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