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Michigan appeals court rules against same-sex benefits

[JURIST] The Michigan Court of Appeals [official website] has ruled [opinion text, PDF] that an amendment to the state constitution [PDF text] defining marriage as between a man and a woman also prohibits Michigan public employers from offering benefits, such as health insurance, to same-sex partners of homosexual employees. The appeals court overturned a lower court decision [PDF text] finding no conflict between the 2004 amendment [PDF text; DFP coverage] and providing the benefits.

In its ruling Thursday, the court wrote:

It is undisputed that under the marriage amendment, heterosexual couples that have not married also may not obtain employment benefits as a couple on the basis of an agreement "recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose. . . ." [T]he amendment is grounded in the longstanding and legitimate governmental interest in favoring the institution of marriage. . . . [T]he amendment is narrowly tailored to further the legitimate governmental interest in protecting and strengthening the institution of marriage, and not to arbitrarily or invidiously exclude individuals from the protections of the laws of this state. . . .

Because the marriage amendment does not make arbitrary or invidious distinctions in furthering the legitimate governmental interests of the state, [the marriage amendment] does not violate the equal protection guarantee of the Michigan constitution. . . .

The marriage amendment's plain language prohibits public employers from recognizing same-sex unions for any purpose.
In March 2005 Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox issued an opinion [text] asserting that the amendment's language barred public employers from offering domestic partner benefits. After the lower court ruling, the Michigan Senate approved resolutions preventing taxpayer money from being spent on same-sex benefits until the state Supreme Court decides the issue. The ACLU of Michigan [advocacy website] expressed disagreement [press release] with appeals court decision, claiming that the voters were told the amendment would not affect domestic partnership benefits, and said that an appeal to the state high court is planned. AP has more.

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