State employee partner benefits in Michigan still viable

by on May 6, 2013  •  In Employment law, States
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By not accepting review in a case, the Michigan Supreme Court has in effect allowed public employee partner benefits to remain in force, despite the decision by voters in 2004 to adopt a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and “similar unions.” Earlier this year, an intermediate appellate court ruled that state employee eligibility for partner benefits did not violate the state constitution. The state attorney general appealed and the state supreme court denied review.

From the Michigan Independent:

State employees in Michigan can continue to receive health benefits for their significant others, even if they’re not married, and even if they’re gay. That’s because the Michigan Supreme Court on Thursday declined to hear an appeal from the attorney general’s office, which has been challenging a local body’s decision to offer health-care benefits to unmarried state employees, saying it violates the state’s anti-gay-marriage statute. According to Attorney General Bill Schuette, the policy treats married and unmarried couples differently.

But in January, a split appeals court panel ruled that the Michigan Civil Service Commission’s health-care policy was “unambiguously completely gender neutral” and therefore does not violate the constitutional ban on same-sex marriages or other civil unions.

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Schuette’s appeal, the lower-court ruling stands.

The attorney general’s office did not respond to inquiries from The American Independent regarding this ruling; however, Joy Yearout, spokesperson for the department, told the Detroit Free Press, “We are disappointed with the ruling because Gov. (Rick) Snyder is correct that expanding state benefits costs the taxpayers millions when they can least afford it.”

Jay Kaplan, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, praised the Supreme Court’s decision, saying the lawsuit itself was “flawed” and “deserved to be dismissed.”

While state workers will continue to receive partner benefits, others employed by public agencies are not so lucky. That’s because last winter, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed a law banning local government agencies from offering partner benefits to employees.

But certain agencies were exempt from this law, such as universities and the Michigan Civil Service Commission, because they have constitutionally protected autonomy.

The ACLU of Michigan is currently challenging this 2011 law in federal court.

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