Michigan Supreme Court Blocks Suit Challenging Domestic Partner Benefits

July 25, 2007

Detroit -- The American Civil Liberties Union lauded a Michigan Supreme Court ruling today that upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit against the Ann Arbor Public School District. The lawsuit was brought by 17 taxpayers in an attempt to force the school district to discontinue benefits to the families of gay and lesbian employees.

Although divided on the legal rationale, the Michigan Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of the lawsuit in an 8-1 decision ruling that the plaintiffs lacked standing, or the right to sue.

“The dismissal of this lawsuit is a step in the right direction for equality in Michigan,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “Disapproval of same-sex relationships and of same-sex couples receiving health insurance are not reasons enough to sue.”

After voters passed an amendment to the state constitution in 2004 limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples, the 17 taxpayers sent letters to school board members asking them to stop providing benefits to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit due to lack of standing and the Court of Appeals affirmed this decision.

The taxpayers alleged that by providing health insurance coverage to domestic partners of employees, the school district violated both Michigan statutory and constitutional law limiting marriage to opposite sex couples.

The decision did not address whether the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage blocks the state, local governments and public institutions from providing benefits to the same-sex partners of employees. That issue is proceeding separately before the Michigan Supreme Court in National Pride at Work v Granholm et al. In this case, the ACLU of Michigan is representing twenty-one gay couples, in which at least one partner in each relationship works for state or local government.