The Thomas More Law Center, an Ann Arbor-based law group, first filed suit against the Ann Arbor Public School District in 2003 seeking to prevent the school district from providing domestic partner benefits to its same-sex employees. In an attempt to strengthen its case against the Ann Arbor Public Schools, the Thomas More Law Center is now citing Proposal 2, which amended the state constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman, as part of its argument against gay couples’ benefits. The new constitutional amendment was sold to voters as a means of protecting “the sanctity of marriage” not as a discriminatory measure. This suit provides the first example of Proposal 2’s use as a discriminatory measure, and will likely be a vital test case regarding the legality of same-sex benefits.
The suit was previously dismissed in Washtenaw County Circuit Court, which found that the Thomas More Law Center and 17 taxpayers associated with the suit did not have grounds to sue. The law center, however, has filed an appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals, citing Proposal 2 and requesting the Court of Appeals rule on the merits of the case rather than just procedural issues. Thus, this suit will likely determine how the new amendment will implicate the rights of gay couples beyond marriage. It is unfortunate that the Thomas More Law Center has chosen to drain resources from a local school district by forcing the Ann Arbor Public Schools to defend its practices, especially because the law center is fundamentally seeking a test case concerning Proposal 2, not just a change in school district policy.
Supporters of the suit against the public schools hope to establish a precedent that could be extended throughout the state. All benefits for partners of gay and lesbian government employees could then be called into question. Opponents of the suit fear such a precedent would provide an avenue through which the new amendment could be used to legally discriminate against gays and lesbians. The amendment, which was supposedly intended to limit access to marriage, would instead be applied in a manner that clearly denies gay couples other protections that are afforded to straight couples.
The case is a particularly important one for the University, which has extended all current benefits to its employees regardless of sexual orientation. If the suit against the Ann Arbor Public Schools is upheld, the University could easily be one of the next targets. If and when this happens, the University needs to be prepared to defend the rights of its employees.
Even though Proposal 2 was approved 59 to 41 percent, many who voted for the amendment intended only to define marriage. For this reason, efforts to further curb the rights of gays and lesbians based on Proposal 2 are nothing more than misleading efforts to write discrimination into law. The University has always been a firm supporter of these rights and will need to remain firm in this defense in the future.
Regardless of one’s sexual orientation or opinion of those with differing orientations, certain rights must exist for everyone. Everyone should have health coverage, personal protections of privacy and most notably, the right to their personal pursuit of happiness. In a time of deep moral divisions, these basic rights must not be forgotten.