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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 5, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 27
A win for Michigan couples - State can't ban same-sex partnership benefits, federal court says
Section One
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A win for Michigan couples - State can't ban same-sex partnership benefits, federal court says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A federal district judge ruled on June 28 that the state law barring Michigan school districts and municipal governments from providing health insurance to domestic partners of their employees is unconstitutional.

The law was passed by Michigan's Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Republican Governor Rick Scott in 2011.

Judge David S. Lawson ruled that there is a 'plausible claim' the law violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, and he enjoined the state from enforcing it. Municipal governments may now reinstate benefits for partners of their employees.

'It is hard to argue with a straight face that the primary purpose - indeed, perhaps the sole purpose - of the statute is other than to deny health benefits to the same-sex partners of public employees,' Lawson said in his decision. 'But that can never be a legitimate governmental purpose.'

The state's claims that the law was passed for financial reasons and follows the will of the people 'come close to striking [the court] with the force of a five-week-old, unrefrigerated dead fish,' the judge added.

STRAIGHTS ALSO AFFECTED
The ACLU of Michigan challenged the law, which affected all unmarried employees, on behalf of five LGBT public workers last year.

According to the ACLU, the law allowed insurance coverage for a variety of family members including cousins, uncles, and nephews, but specifically targeted same-sex domestic partners. Michigan does not permit same-sex marriage.

'This law served no purpose to the state of Michigan other than to needlessly discriminate against hard-working families,' said ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss. 'It's hard to encourage talented people and their families to work for public employers in Michigan when they're denied the ability to take care of each other.'

'We're breathing a sigh of relief right now,' said Peter Ways, an Ann Arbor teacher whose partner would have lost his benefits. 'This law was clearly meant to target families like ours and to make us feel as though we didn't count.'

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