Ban on benefits for same-sex partners overturned

By Claire Bryan, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 12, 2014

Detroit Judge David Lawson has overturned the ban on same-sex partner benefits from schools and local governments.

The AP reported Wednesday that Judge Lawson ruled the Michigan law unconstitutional coming after he issued an injunction against the law in July of last year.

The law, signed by Governor Snyder in 2011, mandated that public employers cannot give medical and other fringe benefits to partners of employees unless the partner is married or legally dependent on that person.

Jay Kaplan, an attorney at American Civil Liberties Union Michigan, said the law was a unique one.

“This law is the only law like this in the country,” Kaplan said. “Michigan is the only state where they passed a law like this.”

The law stated that a “‘public employee’ means a person holding a position by appointment or employment in the government of this state; in the government of one or more of the political subdivisions of this state; in the public school service.”

The preliminary injunction issued in 2013 prevented the enforcement of the law until a final decision was made, Kaplan said.

“What happened today was the judge issued a final judgment on this case saying he is determined that this law is unconstitutional,” Kaplan said. “This is a final judgment.”

However, upon signing the law, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder wrote in a signing statement that university employees or state employees under civil service were not included.

“In (Snyder’s) signing statement he said he didn’t believe that it applied to universities because under the constitution there is a provision protecting your autonomy or state employees,” Kaplan said.

The University’s benefits policy, which was created in 2008, allows Other Qualified Adults to be qualified for benefits. Other Qualified Adults include another adult living with a University employee.

“The way the University’s benefits are structured, benefits are not offered to just domestic partners,” said University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald. “It is a broader definition and other adults living in the household can qualify for the benefits from the University.”

In 2011, the law did not change the University policy and the injunction on the law in 2013 did not change anything either. Wednesday’s decision to strike down the law still does not bring any change for University staff.

“This court ruling overturning the law doesn’t change anything for the University staff,” Fitzgerald said.