“While the courtroom was filled with supporters of the gay couples, there was at least one person who thinks the amendment bars domestic partner benefits. Gary Glenn, president of the Midland-based American Family Association of Michigan and an outspoken backer of the amendment, said its primary intent was to reaffirm the definition of marriage. But the secondary intent was to make sure the definition is honored for any purpose, ‘including the provision of taxpayer-financed spousal benefits,’ he said.”
August 16, 2005
Gay couples ask judge to allow domestic partnership benefits
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Attorneys for 21 gay couples and Gov. Jennifer Granholm asked a judge Tuesday to rule that Michigan’s constitution does not prevent governments and universities from providing health insurance and other benefits to partners of gay employees.
As gay rights advocates watched inside a crowded Ingham County courtroom, Circuit Court Judge Joyce Draganchuk heard oral arguments over a constitutional amendment approved by voters last year. The amendment made the union between a man and a woman the only agreement recognized as a marriage “or similar union for any purpose.”
Republican Attorney General Mike Cox issued a legal opinion in March saying those six words bar public employers from offering domestic partner benefits in future contracts.
But an attorney for the couples said Tuesday that health insurance is simply a benefit of employment and argued that granting it in no way recognizes a union similar to marriage. Deborah Labelle also said backers of the ballot proposal consistently claimed it was only about marriage — not benefits.
“This goes way beyond the stated purpose of the amendment … and far beyond the drafters’ and voters’ intent,” she said of Cox’s interpretation.
An attorney representing Cox said the amendment’s wording is plain on its face and accused Granholm and the couples of ignoring the “for any purpose” wording in the amendment.
“That’s the point at which there’s been an end-run around the amendment,” Eric Restuccia said.
In March, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed suit on behalf of the 21 couples who either receive health coverage from public employers or expected to get it. The Granholm administration has decided not to offer state employees same-sex benefits, included in new labor contracts, until a court rules on their legality. Kalamazoo has announced it will eliminate same-sex benefits as of Jan. 1.
An attorney for the Democratic governor on Tuesday urged Draganchuk to consider the context surrounding the amendment’s passage. D.J. Pascoe said the ballot measure was a response to the national debate about same-sex marriage, not any disagreement over same-sex benefits. He cited a brochure distributed by the amendment’s supporters saying the amendment would maintain the status quo in Michigan.
“We have to assume the proponents were being straightforward about what they meant,” Pascoe said.
Draganchuk mostly listened to arguments but did question the attorney general’s attorney on whether health insurance is a benefit of marriage. Restuccia responded that health benefits historically have been conferred to married couples.
While the courtroom was filled with supporters of the gay couples, there was at least one person who thinks the amendment bars domestic partner benefits.
Gary Glenn, president of the Midland-based American Family Association of Michigan and an outspoken backer of the amendment, said its primary intent was to reaffirm the definition of marriage. But the secondary intent was to make sure the definition is honored for any purpose, “including the provision of taxpayer-financed spousal benefits,” he said.
The judge did not indicate when she would issue a ruling but said it was an urgent matter.
On the Net:
ACLU of Michigan: http://www.aclumich.org
Gov. Jennifer Granholm: http://www.michigan.gov/gov
Attorney General Mike Cox: http://www.michigan.gov/ag
American Family Association of Michigan: http://www.afamichigan.org