LANSING — At a Michigan Supreme Court hearing today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan asked the court to reject the Michigan Court of Appeals decision that the state’s marriage amendment bars public employers from offering same sex domestic partner benefits.
The ACLU of Michigan argued that voters, who approved the marriage amendment, did not intend to take benefits away from Michigan families and that public employers voluntarily providing benefits to domestic partners did not in turn create a marriage.
"Proponents of the marriage amendment insisted for months that the language of the amendment concerned marriage only and would not effect the health benefits of hundreds of LGBT families in Michigan," said Deborah Labelle, ACLU of Michigan Cooperating Attorney. "It is now up to the Michigan Supreme Court to hold the proponents to their promises and ensure that all Michigan families are protected and have access to health care."
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. Attorney General Mike Cox, who intervened as a defendant, appealed the ruling.
"We strongly believe that the appellate court erred in its judgment," said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. "Providing health insurance to same sex couples is vastly different from the recognition of a marriage and the over one thousand benefits and rights that marriage confers."
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 two groups that lead the campaign for passage of the amendment, Citizens for the Protection of Marriage and American Family Association of Michigan both claimed that the amendment did not concern health benefits. CPM Campaign Director Marlene Elwell said: "This has nothing to do with taking benefits away. This is about marriage between a man and a woman."
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.