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Updated 10:00 AM February 5, 2007




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Court rules against same-sex domestic partner benefits

The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that the Michigan Marriage Amendment prohibits universities and other state public institutions from providing benefits to employees on the basis of a same-sex partner relationship. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, one of the original plaintiffs in the case, says it will file an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.

The decision by the three-member appellate court reverses a previous ruling in Ingham County Circuit Court that said the amendment to the Michigan Constitution, passed by voters in 2004, did not prohibit employers from offering such benefits. The amendment defined marriage as "a union between one man and one woman."

"The marriage amendment's plain language prohibits public employers from recognizing same-sex unions for any purpose," the appeals court said in its decision.

"We are deeply disappointed by today's ruling," said Laurita Thomas, associate vice president and chief human resource officer. "We will support an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court and efforts to seek an immediate stay while the case is appealed."

"In addition, the law allows us to honor our commitments to provide agreed-upon health benefits through the end of the calendar year, or through the end of the current contract for bargained-for employee groups.

"As an employer, we offer benefits to our employees and their dependents in order to recruit and retain the very best faculty and staff. Our benefits program allows us to be competitive with peer institutions, including private universities, across the country. It also clearly demonstrates our commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment for all members of our community. We will continue to promote access to health benefits for our employees and their families."

The non-profit organization National Pride at Work, Inc. filed a lawsuit in March 2005 seeking a clarification on what if any effect the Marriage Amendment had on partner benefits.

In her October 2005 decision, Ingham County Judge Joyce Draganchuk said by "voluntarily providing domestic partner health care benefits to an employer-defined group of people" public institutions were not recognizing "marriage or a similar union." She ruled that because health care benefits are not legal rights granted to married persons—and therefore are not among the benefits of marriage—the constitutional amendment did not prevent employers from offering them to domestic partners.

The Michigan Appeals Court said the lower court erred by "ignoring the significance of the term 'agreement' in the marriage amendment." Members said because U-M, Michigan State University and the City of Kalamazoo required domestic partners to prove "the existence of a formal domestic partnership agreement to establish eligibility for benefits," the institutional requirements essentially constituted recognition of the union.

More information about same sex benefits at U-M >

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