LGBT News: Michigan Gay Couples Sue For Partner Benefits

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    Michigan Gay Couples Sue For Partner Benefits
    by Newscenter Staff

    Posted: August 16, 2005 7:00 pm ET

    (Lansing, Michigan) Twenty-two same-sex couples and Michigan Gov. Gov. Jennifer Granholm squared off in a courtroom Tuesday against the state's Attorney General in a battle over whether the constitutional ban on gay marriage extends to partner benefits.

    The lawsuit was first filed in March by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan on behalf of the couples, who receive health insurance from their public employers or who would have received DP benefits as part of new state labor contracts.

    State and local governmental agencies, represented by the Michigan Corrections Organization, Michigan State Employees Association, Service Employees International Union, AFSCME and UAW, had successfully bargained for a jobs benefits package. The package included medical benefits and family medical leave for their families, including domestic partners and their children.

    But, despite the agreement with the unions, in December, 2004, Governor Jennifer Granholm announced that domestic partner benefits would be removed from the contracts following a legal opinion from Attorney General Mike Cox that the constitutional amendment passed by voters last year bars all public employers from providing domestic partner benefits. (story).

    But, although Granholm removed the benefits from the contracts she disagrees with Cox's interpretation of the amendment. Last month she entered the case on the side of the gay couples.

    Cox is obligated to argue the case against benefits as Attorney General.

    Graholm has her own lawyer. The same-sex couples are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

    Late Tuesday afternoon the case opened with ACLU lawyer Deborah Labelle telling Circuit Court Judge Joyce Draganchuk that granting health insurance is simply a benefit of employment and in no way recognizes a marriage-like relationship. 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.

    But, Eric Restuccia, the attorney representing Cox said the amendment's wording is plain on its face.

    Outside the court dozens of gays and lesbians demonstrated in support of the plaintiffs. The rally was organized by Michigan Equality.

    The case is expected to continue throughout most of the week but a decision could take weeks or months.

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