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Citing Supreme Court’s DOMA decision, federal judge blocks Michigan law that would ban domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples

DeBoer LGBT Legal Cases

By Scottie Thomaston

Citing last week’s Supreme Court opinion in United States v. Windsor, striking down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal judge in Michigan issued a preliminary ruling, temporarily halting a state law that would prohibit domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples. With the injunction now in place, benefits can continue to be issued. The ruling marks the first time the Windsor decision, issued only last week, has been cited to expand LGBT rights:

“We’re breathing a sigh of relief right now,” said Peter Ways, an Ann Arbor teacher whose partner would have lost his benefits. “This law was clearly meant to target families like ours and to make us feel as though we didn’t count.”

In granting the preliminary injunction, U.S. District Court Judge David M. Lawson found that the law discriminated by forcing cities, counties, school districts, and community colleges to cancel family benefits for gay and lesbian employees in committed relationships while heterosexual employees had the ability to marry their partners to maintain health insurance. Same-sex couples cannot marry in Michigan.

Today’s decision relies in part on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Wednesday decision in Windsor v. United States, which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. Judge Lawson recognized, as the Supreme Court did, that the Constitution forbids the government from passing laws with a motive to discriminate against gay people. This is the first federal court decision applying the Supreme Court’s reasoning to protect same-sex couples from discrimination in other contexts.

As Towleroad noted, this is the latest in a string of actions in Michigan, including another lawsuit that is more directly related to marriage equality:

The ruling comes just days after Michigan lawmakers introduced legislation to repeal the state’s ban on same-sex marriage which passed in 2004. The ban is also currently under review by federal judge Bernard Friedman, who in March postponed his ruling on the constitutionality of the ban given the Supreme Court’s impending consideration of both Prop. 8 and DOMA. Judge Friedman’s ruling is still forthcoming.

The marriage equality case, DeBoer v. Snyder, is expected to continue now that the Supreme Court’s Term is over and its marriage decisions have been handed down. The judge in that case suggested that the couple expand the reach of their complaint – it was initially only an adoption lawsuit, and they decided to take on the state’s marriage ban itself. When the Supreme Court took up the marriage cases, the judge, along with other federal judges in several other unrelated cases across the country, put the proceedings on hold.

The ruling on the domestic partner benefits case is not a sweeping ruling striking down the law; rather, it’s a preliminary injunction halting the law’s enforcement while the judge hears the merits of the case. But the standard for issuing a preliminary injunction says that the person challenging the law must be likely to succeed on the merits, so an injunction at this stage is at least a good sign that the law’s defenders have an uphill battle ahead of them.

Equality Michigan responded to the decision, issuing a statement:

“Equality Michigan is overjoyed by Judge Lawson’s ruling. In order to attract the best and brightest talent to Michigan, we need to make sure all workers are treated equally. On the heels of the Supreme Court decisions advancing recognition of same-gender relationships, we believe that momentum towards equality and justice is on our side. This is a victory for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender families in Michigan who are working to provide stability for their families.”

The case is called Bassett v. Snyder.

h/t Kathleen for the Scribd file of the decision

2:12-cv-10038 #75 by EqualityCaseFiles

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