DETROIT — In an unusual coalition of partners, three groups have jointly filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Ann Arbor Public School District who is being sued by a conservative legal foundation for providing domestic partner health benefits to gay and lesbian employees of the district.

In response to the challenge brought against the school district by the Thomas More Law Center, a brief has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan. 

The lawsuit alleges that the provision of such benefits is in violation of current Michigan law which prohibits same-sex marriages. The brief asserts that the lawsuit should be dismissed, arguing that the provision of domestic partner benefits by a local government entity is not the legal equivalent of marriage, and that domestic partner benefits are good for business, allowing employers to respond to employee needs.  There are currently 30,000 uninsured persons in Washtenaw County and over 43 million in the United States. 

The Washtenaw County Medical Society (WCMS) Executive Committee has also joined in the brief.  “Access to health care is a serious national and local problem,” said Washtenaw County Medical Society President, Richard Burney, M.D., acknowledging the critical role employer-based health care benefits play in the health system.  “Employer-based health insurance is one of the primary ways of securing access to health care, and the Washtenaw County Medical Society strongly supports the right of employers to extend health insurance coverage to meet their employees' needs."

Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan, echoed Dr. Burney’s concern.  “This is an effort to deprive gay and lesbian families and their children of important benefits by limiting the authority of local governments and schools. The Thomas More Center, in its attempt to create a society in accord with its own religious values, is trying to use the statute which defines marriage to deny access to health care to gay and lesbian families.”

The ACLU believes that the current lawsuit is part of a continuing effort by the Thomas More Law Center to prohibit employers from recognizing gay and lesbian employees and affording them equal opportunities in the workplace. 

Similar lawsuits in Florida, Colorado, Illinois, Georgia, Washington, and Wisconsin have failed, according to Kara Jennings, staff attorney for the ACLU’s LGBT Project.

The case, Rhode et al v. Ann Arbor Public Schools, was filed in the Washtenaw County Circuit Court. A motion to dismiss the lawsuit will be heard on December 3, 2003.