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Friday, February 02, 2007

Courts - Michigan Court: No Same-Sex Benefits from Public Universities and Governments [Updated]

The AP is reporting:

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Public universities and state and local governments would violate the state constitution by providing health insurance to the partners of gay employees, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

A three-judge panel said a 2004 voter-approved ban on gay marriage also applies to same-sex domestic partner benefits. The decision reverses a 2005 ruling from an Ingham County judge who said universities and governments could provide the benefits.

"The marriage amendment's plain language prohibits public employers from recognizing same-sex unions for any purpose," the court wrote.

A constitutional amendment passed by Michigan voters in November 2004 made the union between a man and a woman the only agreement recognized as a marriage "or similar union for any purpose." Those six words led to the court fight over benefits for gay couples.

Gay couples and others had argued that the public intended to ban gay marriage but not block benefits for unmarried opposite sex or same-sex domestic partners.

The appeals court agreed with the Michigan attorney general, Republican Mike Cox, who said in a March 2005 opinion that same-sex benefits are not allowed in a state that does not recognize same-sex unions.

Thanks to How Appealing, here is the Michigan opinion in National Pride v. Gov. of Michigan.

What does the Michigan Constitution say?

Article 1, section 25 provides: “To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children, the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.”
On page 2 of the opinion, the Court states:
Thus, while other states have adopted constitutional amendments and/or statutes that place limitations on governmental recognition of same-sex relationships, no court in any of these states has had the occasion to interpret language approximating the “similar union” language found in Michigan’s marriage amendment.
The disputed subsection (b) in SJR 7 (as noted in the ILB entry from 2/1/07) reads:
This Constitution or any other Indiana law may not be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.
On a related note, see this story today from The Indiana Daily Student, by Carrie Ritchie, headlined "Same-sex legislation worries some at IU: Many say ban would threaten University benefits."

[Updated 3:47 p.m.] For background on the Michigan case, see this ILB entry from 10/7/05, which at the end includes links to the lower court documents and opinion.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 2, 2007 03:08 PM
Posted to Courts in general