Federal Judge Strikes Down Michigan Domestic Partner Health Care Ban

November 12, 2014

DETROIT – A federal judge today ruled unconstitutional a 2011 state law that would have barred many public entities from providing health insurance to the domestic partners of their employees, permanently enjoining the law’s enforcement.

The ACLU and Kirkland & Ellis LLP challenged the law on behalf of five gay and lesbian public employees, as well as their long-term domestic partners, who either lost their health insurance or would have lost their insurance as a result of the law.

“We are thrilled that the federal court struck down as unconstitutional one of the most mean-spirited laws adopted in recent Michigan history,” said Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the LGBT Project of the ACLU of Michigan. “I hope this decision marks a turning point in this state and that Lansing will get on the right side of history by passing legislation to finally end discrimination against LGBT persons and their families.”

In striking down the law, U.S. District Court Judge David M. Lawson found that the law discriminated by forcing cities, counties, school districts, and community colleges to cancel family benefits for gay and lesbian employees in committed relationships while heterosexual employees had the ability to marry their partners to maintain health insurance. Same-sex couples cannot marry in Michigan.

“This law served no purpose to the state of Michigan other than to needlessly discriminate against hard-working families,” said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. “It’s hard to encourage talented people and their families to work for public employers in Michigan when they’re denied the ability to take care of each other.”

Judge Lawson recognized, as the Supreme Court did, that the Constitution forbids the government from passing laws with a motive to discriminate against gay people.

“We’re breathing a sigh of relief right now,” said Peter Ways, an Ann Arbor teacher whose partner would have lost his benefits. “This law was clearly meant to target families like ours and to make us feel as though we didn’t count.”

In explaining why Michigan’s law violated constitutional guarantees of equal protection, Judge Lawson noted: “Although majority rule is a bedrock principle of democratic governments, republicanism — the idea that people have certain unalienable rights that cannot be squelched by the majority — is the guiding political philosophy that animates the Constitution. Courts play a vital role in protecting against the tyranny of shifting majorities.”

“The court rightly determined that this policy unconstitutionally discriminated against a minority of Michigan families,” said Amanda C. Goad, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “All hardworking public employees and their families should have the peace of mind of being able to look after each other.”

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