LANSING (AP) – The Michigan Supreme Court will begin weighing tomorrow whether state universities and other public-sector employers can provide health insurance to the partners of gay workers.
But even if gays lose the case, they ultimately could still get their benefits despite a 2004 state constitutional ban against gay marriage that threatened those benefits.
Universities and local governments have rewritten their domestic partnership policies in light of the measure.
The new policies no longer specifically acknowledge domestic partnerships but make sure “other qualified adults” – including gay partners – are eligible for medical and dental care. The adults have to live together for a certain amount of time, be unmarried, share finances and be unrelated.
“It’s a temporary, stopgap method. It’s certainly not a panacea,” said Jay Kaplan, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.
While no same-sex partners of employees have lost their health insurance while the legal battle continues, many now are getting health insurance only on a pilot basis, he said.
The University of Michigan, Michigan State University and the city of Kalamazoo changed their rules after the state Court of Appeals in February said the gay marriage ban also bars benefits for the same-sex partners of public employees.
The court signaled, however, that benefits for unmarried partners would be OK if they aren’t based on recognizing their “agreed-upon relationship.”
Kaplan said the distinction made by the appeals court was disingenuous.
“You can exist as long as we don’t acknowledge you exist,” he said.
Depending how the high court rules, benefits for gay couples may continue because conservatives who drafted the marriage amendment don’t appear to have big problems with the new benefit policies – at least legally.
“They may be constitutional. I don’t anticipate further lawsuits on that particular question,” said Gary Glenn, president of the Midland-based American Family Association of Michigan.
But Glenn and the AFA still oppose same-sex partner benefits.
“From a standpoint of public policy, we don’t believe the taxpayers of Michigan should be forced to subsidize behavior the majority of citizens believe is wrong,” he said.
The redesigned policies’ legality could be on the back burner Tuesday when the Supreme Court hears an appeal by 21 gay couples who lost their right to benefits.