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Michigan Supreme Court leaves same-sex partner benefits intact

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By Jacob CombsMichigan state seal

Same-sex domestic partners of Michigan state employees will continue to receive health benefits after the Michigan Supreme Court decided not to take up an appeal on the issue, the AP reported yesterday morning.  In a unanimous order from Wednesday that was released yesterday, the court expressed skepticism that it should hear the case.

In 2011, Michigan’s Civil Service Commission voted against Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s wishes and mandated that state health insurance plans must cover non-family members who have lived for more than a year with a state employee.  Attorney General Bill Schuette challenged the move in court.

An Ingham County judge ruled that the commission’s decision did not conflict with Michigan State Proposal — 04-2, a voter-approved constitutional amendment from 2004 that outlawed marriage equality and civil unions in the state.  A divided appeals court issued a decision in January that said the courts were in no place to second-guess whether the state had acted correctly or not.  After this week’s Supreme Court ruling, that decision will stand as final.

Michigan has some of the most stringent laws in the country against legal recognition of same-sex couples’ unions.  In 2008, the state Supreme Court ruled that public universities in the state could not offer domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples.  As the AP noted in its piece, because of that ruling and the 2004 amendment, many public employers in the state have transitioned to offering benefits for “other eligible individuals” in employees’ households, a classification that could include–but does not specifically reference–gay partners.

In 2011, Gov. Snyder signed a law that prohibited health benefits for domestic partners of public employees, although the provision did not apply to public universities.  That law has been challenged in court.  Another LGBT rights lawsuit, DeBoer v. Snyder, is currently pending in a federal district court in Michigan.  In that case, Judge Bernard Friedman invited the plaintiffs to amend their complaint–which had originally focused only on adoption rights–to challenge Michigan’s marriage equality ban.  In March, Judge Friedman placed the case on hold until a final decision by the Supreme Court in the Prop 8 case and the Windsor challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act.

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