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22 March 2005
Lansing State Journal Article about ACLU suit

ACLU sues for benefits for gay couples
Lawsuit says Prop. 2 never intended to withhold health care

By Bree Fowler
Associated Press

DETROIT - A lawsuit challenging a recent attorney general's opinion that bans public employers from offering benefits to same-sex couples in future contracts was filed Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

The lawsuit, filed in Ingham County Circuit Court, asks the court to rule that Proposal 2 does not bar government employers from providing health insurance and other benefits to employees' same-sex partners and their children.

"We are filing this lawsuit today on behalf of the many men and women in Michigan with children who very much need health care but who stand to lose their benefits because supporters of Proposal 2 are pushing to make (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) families into second-class citizens," said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director.

Those bringing the suit include a Washington-based AFL-CIO group called National Pride at Work that backs gay rights; Kalamazoo city employees; workers at state universities; and employees at various state agencies and departments.

All 21 of the couples represented in the suit currently rely on domestic-partner benefits for health care coverage, the ACLU said. Six of the couples have dependent children, and three chose to relocate to Michigan because the employer offered domestic-partner benefits.

Proposal 2, which Michigan voters approved 59 percent to 41 percent in November, said a union between one man and one woman "shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose."

The ACLU says in the lawsuit, which names Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm as the defendant, that U.S. courts have held that providing health insurance to same-sex domestic partners does not constitute recognition of a marriage or a similar union and is necessary for employers to attract qualified workers.

The ACLU also argues in the suit that the intent of voters was not to deny the families of gays and lesbians health insurance or other benefits. The suit says the ballot committee that sponsored Proposal 2 "consistently and repeatedly" assured voters that the initiative was only about protecting marriage.

Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director of the Triangle Foundation, a gay rights group, said same-sex benefits should be protected because domestic partnerships are not equivalent to marriage. Same-sex couples do not get more than 1,000 rights and protections that married people receive, he said.

"Just six or seven things are afforded is a domestic partnership arrangement," he said. "I don't see how anybody in their wildest imagination could describe that as similar to marriage. It just isn't."

Last week, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox issued his first legal interpretation of the amendment, saying that Kalamazoo's policy of offering health and retirement benefits to same-sex partners violates the amendment.

Kalamazoo's policy gives domestic partnerships a "marriage-like" status, Cox said. Given the constitutional amendment's broad language, conferring benefits recognizes the validity of same-sex relationships, he ruled.

Cox spokeswoman Allison Pierce said Monday she could not comment because she had not reviewed the lawsuit.

In the absence of a ruling from a court, Cox's interpretation of the law generally is binding.

However, the Michigan Court of Appeals could hear a Proposal 2-based challenge to same-sex benefits early next month.

Gary Glenn, president of the Midland-based American Family Association of Michigan, said the Cox opinion validated what his group had said before and after the election.

It is unclear how Cox's opinion might affect universities that offer same-sex benefits.

Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd said Monday the governor was pleased the issue had reached the legal system. "We will now await an interpretation of this matter with the hope of an outcome that allows us to provide health care to all of our employees and their families," Boyd said.

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