LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Attorneys for 21 gay couples and Gov. Jennifer Granholm asked a judge Tuesday to rule that Michigan’s constitution does not prevent governments and universities from providing health insurance and other benefits to partners of gay employees.

As gay rights advocates watched inside a crowded Ingham County courtroom, Circuit Court Judge Joyce Draganchuk heard oral arguments over a constitutional amendment approved by voters last year. The amendment made the union between a man and a woman the only agreement recognized as a marriage “or similar union for any purpose.”

Republican Attorney General Mike Cox issued a legal opinion in March saying those six words bar public employers from offering domestic partner benefits in future contracts.

But an attorney for the couples argued Tuesday that granting health insurance is simply a benefit of employment and in no way recognizes a marriage-like relationship. Deborah Labelle also said backers of the ballot proposal consistently said it was only about marriage — not benefits.

“This goes way beyond the stated purpose of the amendment … and far beyond the drafters’ and voters’ intent,” she said.

An attorney representing Cox said the amendment’s wording is plain on its face.

“They’ve read out ‘for any purpose,’“ Eric Restuccia said of the plaintiffs.

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