Michigan senate urges court to block domestic-partner benefits

BY admin

October 07 2005 12:00 AM ET

The Michigan
senate on Thursday approved resolutions urging the Michigan
supreme court to block public-sector employers, including
state government, from providing health insurance to
the partners of gay employees until the court makes a
final ruling on the issue.
The Republican-controlled senate voted 22-16,
mostly along party lines, to pass two resolutions to
prevent taxpayer dollars from being spent on
domestic-partner benefits until the court reaches a final
judgment. The measures are symbolic and do not have
the force of law. "If we're really concerned about not
disrupting people's lives, we ought to keep the status
quo until the court makes a decision," said Sen. Alan
Cropsey, a DeWitt Republican who sponsored the measures.
A supreme court spokeswoman said the court
generally does not comment on pending matters. It's
unclear what action, if any, the court could take
because the state court of appeals normally weighs in on
legal cases before the high court does.
An Ingham County judge ruled last month that
public universities and governments could provide
domestic-partner benefits without violating a
constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, approved
by voters in November.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm,
a Democrat, then said she would ask the
state Civil Service Commission to approve domestic-partner
benefits for state employees. The benefits had been
included in new labor contracts, but Granholm put them
on hold while waiting for a court ruling. The Civil
Service Commission's next meeting is scheduled for December
13. But the Granholm administration has asked the
commission to schedule a special meeting quickly.
"We want to be able to be competitive in the
workplace to hire the very best employees to work for
the state of Michigan," said David Fink, director of
the Office of the State Employer. "While some would
argue that a change in the law could be disruptive, in the
interim individuals who would otherwise be covered by
the benefit would be left uninsured."
A measure passed last year amended the state
constitution to make the union between a man and
a woman the only agreement recognized as a marriage
"or similar union for any purpose." Those six words
led to a fight over benefits for gay couples.
Republican attorney general Mike Cox issued an
opinion in March saying the measure bars the city of
Kalamazoo from providing domestic-partner benefits in
future contracts. But 21 gay couples who work for the city
of Kalamazoo, several universities, and the state
filed a lawsuit challenging Cox's interpretation.
Cox plans to appeal the Ingham County judge's
ruling, prompting senate Republicans to push the two
resolutions asking the state's highest court to "take
whatever steps are necessary to maintain the status quo"
until it rules.
Democratic senator Gilda Jacobs urged her
colleagues Thursday to vote against the measures. "We
should be celebrating this great state's diversity,
not discriminating against certain people," Jacobs said.
Twenty Republicans and two Democrats voted for
the resolutions. Fourteen Democrats and two
Republicans voted against them. The lawmakers breaking
ranks were Republicans Shirley Johnson of Troy and Beverly
Hammerstrom of Temperance, who voted against the
measures, and Democrats Jim Barcia of Bay City and
Dennis Olshove of Warren, who voted for them. One of the
measures, a concurrent resolution, now heads to the house.

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