ACLU Files Lawsuit on Proposal 2 Denying Same-Sex Partner Benefits
March 21, 2005 - Press Release
DETROIT - At a news conference this morning, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan announced the filing of a lawsuit requesting that the court declare that the amendment passed by Michigan voters in November 2004, regarding same-sex marriage, does not prohibit domestic partnership (DP) benefits offered by public employers.
The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of National Pride at Work and twenty-one same-sex couples who receive health insurance from their public employers or who would have received DP benefits as part of a new state contract.
"We are filing this lawsuit today on behalf of the many men and women in Michigan with children who very much need health care but who stand to lose their benefits because supporters of Proposal 2 are pushing to make LGBT families into second-class citizens," said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director.
State and local governmental agencies, represented by the Michigan Corrections Organization, Michigan State Employees Association, Service Employees International Union, AFSCME and UAW, had successfully bargained for a jobs benefits package that was scheduled for ratification by the State Civil Service Commission on December 15, 2004. The package included medical benefits and family medical leave for their families, including domestic partners and their children.
But in December, Governor Granholm announced that a "legal cloud" exists and DP benefits for employees and families would be withheld pending a judicial decision interpreting whether the language of the constitutional amendment, which limits marriage to a man and a woman in the State of Michigan, prohibits the provision of benefit packages.
On March 16, Attorney General Michael Cox issued an opinion that the marriage amendment bars the City of Kalamazoo from offering DP benefits in future contracts. While the attorney general opinion is not binding in court, the couples who filed the suit fear that, without a court decision, they are in danger of losing or being denied the same health insurance and other benefits that their co-workers’ families receive.
"Compensating employees with health care coverage does not constitute recognition of a marriage," said Joe Darby, a member of National Pride at Work. "What is does do is provide equal employment opportunities to lesbians and gay men."
"Hospitalization, medical and health benefits extended to a worker's family benefit employers, in addition to ensuring essential safety and health for all employees," added Darby.
Throughout the campaign to pass Proposal 2, Citizens for Protection of Marriage, the organization driving the constitutional amendment, consistently and repeatedly advised the voting public, through media and campaign literature, that the intent and purpose of the proposed amendment was to limit marriage to a man and a woman and would not affect DP or same sex partnership benefits. Their brochure, widely distributed, explained the limits of the reach of the proposed constitutional amendment as follows:
Proposal 2 is only about marriage. Marriage is a union between husband and wife. Proposal 2 will keep it that way. This is not about rights or benefits or how people choose to live their lives. This has to do with family, children and the way people are. It merely settles the question once and for all what marriage is-for families today and future generations.
All of the twenty-one couples named in the lawsuit currently rely on DP benefits for health care coverage. Six of the couples have dependent children; three have re-located to Michigan because the employer offered DP benefits and several specifically chose their place of employment on the basis of the DP benefits.
Besides National Pride at Work, a constituency group of the AFL-CIO, whose purpose is to mobilize mutual support between the organized Labor Movement and the LGBT Community around organizing for social and economic justice, plaintiffs include: Darby, who works for Clinton/Ingham County Department of Mental Health, and his partner Ken Syberski; Judith Block, a clinical psychologist, and, Kathleen Poelker; Jerome Post, a labor relations specialist, and Paul Renwick; Gregg Pizzi, a forensic psychologist, and Adnan Ayoub; Tom and Dennis Patrick, parents of two children and foster parents to a child with developmental disabilities; Kathleen Moltz, a physician at Wayne State University, and Dahlia Schwartz; Dorothea Anagnostopoulos and Jill Fuller; Wade Carlson, a city treasurer, and Kevin McMann; Jolinda Jach, a systems analyst, and Barbara Ramber; Debra Harrah, a protective services worker, and Michelle Corwin; Lori Curry, an Family Independence Agency foster care/protective services worker and Gwen Stokes; Courtney Chapin, a Field Career Consultant at Michigan State University, and Mary M. Brisbois; Scott Dennis, a University of Michigan Graduate Library librarian, and Jim Etzkorn; Ty Hiither, a computer systems specialist, and Meghan Belanger; Peter Hammer, a law professor at Wayne State University; Alexandra Stern, an assistant professor at University of Michigan, and Terri Koreck; A.T. Miller, an employee of University of Michigan, and Craig Kukuk; Gary Lindsay, a secretary at Michigan State University, and Michael Chapman; Michael Falk, a University of Michigan engineering professor, and Matt Scott; Joanne Beemon, a state worker at the Forensic Center, and Carol Borgeson; and Kitty O'Neil and Becky Allen who both work at Michigan State University.
The couples are represented by ACLU cooperating attorney Deborah Labelle of Ann Arbor; Thomas Wilczak, Barbara Buchanan, Kurt Kissling and Amanda Shelton the Detroit law firm of Pepper Hamilton; Nancy Katz of Plymouth; Professor Roderick Hills of the University of Michigan Law School; and ACLU staff attorneys Jay Kaplan and Michael J. Steinberg.
To read the complaint, go to: www.aclumich.org/pdf/briefs/domesticpartnerships2.pdf
To read the summary disposition brief, go to: www.aclumich.org/pdf/briefs/dpsummarydispositionbrief.pdf
To read about the plaintiffs in the case, go to: www.aclumich.org/attachments/dpbenefitsplaintiffs.pdf
To read the story in the NY Times on the plaintiffs, go to: www.aclumich.org/attachments/nytimesdplawsuit.pdf
The case was filed in the Ingham County Circuit Court and has been assigned to Judge Joyce Draganchuk.