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Updated 1:00 PM October 4, 2005
 

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Judge rules in favor of same-sex domestic partner benefits

An Ingham County Circuit Court judge has ruled that universities and other Michigan public institutions can continue to provide same-sex domestic partner benefits to employees.

"This is a wonderful result for our employees," President Mary Sue Coleman said in reaction to the Sept. 27 decision. "It is critical to our ability to recruit and retain the best faculty and staff, and our efforts to create an inclusive community."

In the ruling The Honorable Joyce Draganchuk said the Marriage Amendment to the Michigan Constitution passed by voters nearly a year ago does not prohibit employers from offering such benefits.

"The stated purpose of the amendment is 'to secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children.' Health care benefits are not among the statutory rights or benefits of marriage," the judge wrote in her opinion.

The suit was filed last March by non-profit organization National Pride at Work, Inc. as an attempt to clarify what, if any, affect the Marriage Amendment had on partner benefits. At the time, the state and union leaders for its employees had taken partner benefits off the bargaining table until the issue could be resolved, and the City of Kalamazoo was wrestling with the question of how the amendment affected its policy on same-sex domestic partner benefits, which was approved in 2000. Kalamazoo had indicated it would discontinue by Jan. 1 the benefits if a ruling on their legality had not been issued.

"By voluntarily providing domestic partner health care benefits to an employer-defined group of people, the Plaintiff's employers are not 'recognizing a marriage or similar union,'" the judge wrote. "The criteria in the present case do not come close to approaching the legal status that marriage holds in our society."

U-M and Wayne State University jointly filed an amicus brief concurring with National Pride at Work, Inc. that said voters had approved a legal definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman but did not intend that same-sex domestic partner benefits should be eliminated.

In addition to the universities, several organizations filed briefs in support of the plaintiffs, including a number of labor and professional groups, the City of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, and the Clinton-Eaton-Ingham County Mental Health Board.

The University has continued to offer same-sex domestic partner benefits despite the legal challenge, and Coleman vowed from the outset to fight for the right to keep them in place.

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