marriage ban prevents governments and universities in
Michigan from providing health insurance to the
partners of gay workers, the state supreme court ruled
decision affects up to 20 universities, community colleges,
school districts, and governments in Michigan with policies
covering at least 375 gay couples.
advocates said the ruling was devastating but were confident
that public-sector employers have successfully rewritten or
will revise their benefit plans so same-sex partners
can keep getting health care.
The ban, a
constitutional amendment approved in November 2004, says the
union between a man and woman is the only agreement
recognized as a marriage ''or similar union for any
The court ruled
that while marriages and domestic partnerships aren't
identical, they are similar because they're the only
relationships in Michigan defined in terms of gender
and lack of a close blood connection.
could have made their intentions clearer,'' Justice
Stephen Markman wrote, citing the law's ''for any purpose''
justices Marilyn Kelly and Michael Cavanagh countered that
statements made by backers of the measure before the
election suggest they only intended to prohibit
same-sex marriage, not take away employment benefits.
The dissent also
noted that gay partners who qualify for health care
aren't given other benefits of marriage -- equal rights to
property, for instance.
''It is an odd
notion to find that a union that shares only one of the
hundreds of benefits that a marriage provides is a union
similar to marriage,'' Kelly wrote.
The ruling is
believed to be one of the first from a state high court
interpreting the scope of gay marriage bans.
ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny benefits. Ohio
courts found that domestic violence laws don't conflict with
a ban on gay marriage.
however, have yet to grapple with how their gay marriage
bans apply to same-sex partner benefits.
At least 27
states have passed constitutional bans, mostly since 2004 in
response to gay marriages being performed in Massachusetts.
At least 18 of those states, including Michigan, have
broader amendments that also prohibit the recognition
of civil unions or same-sex partnerships.
''It's a sad day
in Michigan when we decide which children and which
families are valuable enough to cover,'' said Tom Patrick,
50, who gets health insurance through his partner,
Dennis Patrick, a professor at Eastern Michigan
joined 20 other gay couples and filed a lawsuit in 2005 when
Republican attorney general Mike Cox interpreted Michigan's
measure as making unconstitutional same-sex benefits
at the city of Kalamazoo and elsewhere.
plaintiffs worked for employers who offered same-sex
benefits. Another five were employed by the state,
which in 2004 agreed to start providing same-sex
benefits but delayed them until courts could clear up
governor Jennifer Granholm's administration is reviewing the
Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which represented the
couples, said the ruling was ''flawed and unfortunate'' and
pledged to work with public employers to write
''neutral'' policies to ensure continuing health
It remains to be
seen whether the revised policies will be challenged in
president of the American Family Association of Michigan and
co-writer of the 2004 measure, said the legality of the new
policies depends on whether they're written broadly
enough to cover many other unmarried employees.
The ACLU is
weighing whether a federal lawsuit is warranted, while Cox
applauded the decision. (David Eggert, AP)