DETROIT (AP) — A month after Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban was overturned, the state is vigorously defending another law that’s being challenged by gays and lesbians: a prohibition on domestic partner benefits for employees in public schools and local governments.
U.S. District Judge David Lawson halted the law with an injunction last summer, saying it was a clear case of discrimination against same-sex couples. He was unimpressed by the rationale of the attorney general’s office, even colorfully comparing it to the “force of a five-week-old, unrefrigerated dead fish.”
Nonetheless, the state isn’t giving up. Lawson has scheduled another round of arguments Tuesday in Detroit federal court before making a final decision on the law’s fate, although it’s possible the case could be put on hold. The state believes it’s better to wait until the separate gay-marriage challenge is over.
“I can’t think of a more mean-spirited piece of legislation,” said Michael Steinberg, legal director at the Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Yet the attorney general continues to fight for the state’s ability to discriminate. It’s very troubling.”
The law was passed in 2011 by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, also a Republican. It says schools and local governments can’t offer health insurance or any benefits to the unmarried partners of employees — gay or heterosexual. Universities are exempt, as well as most state workers whose benefits are set by the Michigan Civil Service Commission. Private businesses also are not affected.
A handful of school districts offered the benefits, along with Ingham and Washtenaw counties and the cities of Ann Arbor, East Lansing and Kalamazoo, according to the ACLU.
The law’s supporters say it’s intended to save money and follow the spirit of a 2004 constitutional amendment, approved by 58 percent of voters, that defines marriage only as between a man and a woman. The amendment, however, was struck down in March as unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman. That decision is being appealed by the state.