LANSING (AP) – Three years after voters approved a constitutional ban against gay marriage, the Michigan Supreme Court yesterday weighed its ramifications for university and government workers whose same-sex partners get health insurance.
On one side was a lawyer from Republican Attorney General Mike Cox’s office who urged the justices to follow the “will of the people” and rule that domestic partner policies at the city of Kalamazoo and elsewhere are unconstitutional.
On the other side were attorneys for 21 gay couples and Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm who said the 2004 amendment was about marriage and preserving the status quo – not taking away benefits from hundreds of gays.
Up to 20 public universities, community colleges, school districts and local governments in Michigan have benefits policies covering at least 375 gay couples. Some of the plans began as far back as the early 1990s.
“We think the voters got one single message, which is: stop civil unions and nontraditional marriages from being recognized in Michigan,” said Deborah Labelle of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. “It’s not about benefits.”
The ballot measure, which passed 59 percent to 41 percent, says the union between a man and woman is the only agreement recognized as a marriage “or similar union for any purpose.”
Labelle said public employers who offer same-sex benefits aren’t recognizing a marriage or a similar union. She argued that domestic partners don’t have the legal rights that married couples are given, adding that health care isn’t a right that comes with getting married but instead a contractual benefit.
But Assistant Attorney General Eric Restuccia said same-sex benefits policies are based on “similar attributes to marriage.”
“They’ve essentially recreated the statutory definition of marriage,” he said, urging justices to read the plain language of the amendment.
The high court has five Republicans and two Democrats. An Ingham County circuit judge ruled in favor of the couples, who sued in 2005 after Cox interpreted the amendment to bar same-sex benefits. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the decision earlier this year, though, and gays nationwide worry the high court’s conservative majority will uphold the ruling.