Hearing Tomorrow on Domestic Partnership Benefits Lawsuit

August 15, 2005

August 15, 2005 - Press Release

DETROIT -- At a hearing tomorrow, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan will ask the court to declare that the amendment passed by Michigan voters in November 2004, regarding same-sex marriage, does not prohibit domestic partnership (DP) benefits offered by public employers.

“This is our opportunity to convince the court that voters in Michigan never intended to take health care benefits away from families and children,” said Jay Kaplan, ACLU staff attorney for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Proponents of Proposal 2 consistently told voters that this amendment was limited to marriage and they believed them.”

The lawsuit, filed in March on behalf of National Pride at Work and twenty-two same-sex couples who receive health insurance from their public employers or who would have received DP benefits as part of a new state contract. This followed Governor Jennifer Granholm’s announcement in December 2004 that domestic partner benefits would be removed from a negotiated contract between the state and state employees. The benefits package included health insurance coverage for same sex partners of state employees and family medical leave.

Since the filing, the City of Kalamazoo has been added as a defendant after the city announced it would eliminate domestic partnership benefits as of January 1, 2006.  This decision came after Attorney General Mike Cox issued a non-binding opinion in March stating that he believes Proposal 2 bars all public employers from providing domestic partner benefits.

The hearing was originally scheduled in July, but postponed after the governor decided to retain separate counsel and requested additional time to file new briefs.   The Governor has now submitted a brief in support of the ACLU position.  

The Attorney General’s request to intervene has been granted and he has now been added as a defendant. 

The hearing will be held on Tuesday, August 16 at 3:00 p.m. in Judge Joyce Dragonchuk’s courtroom, 30th Circuit Court, Veterans Memorial Courthouse located at 313 West Kalamazoo Street in downtown Lansing.  ACLU cooperating attorney Deborah Labelle will be arguing the case.
All of the twenty-one couples named in the lawsuit will be impacted by the court ruling. Six of the couples have dependent children; three have re-located to Michigan because the employer offered DP benefits and several specifically chose their place of employment on the basis of the DP benefits.
In addition to Labelle, the couples are represented by ACLU cooperating attorneys Thomas Wilczak, Barbara Buchanan, Kurt Kissling and Amanda Shelton the Detroit law firm of Pepper Hamilton; Nancy Katz of Plymouth; and ACLU staff attorneys Jay Kaplan and Michael J. Steinberg.