Michigan court rules in favor of domestic partner benefits

By : Wire Report
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A divided Michigan Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a state commission’s decision to provide health insurance to same-sex domestic partners of state employees.

In a 2-1 ruling, the court said it’s not the place of courts to second-guess the wisdom of state action.

Over objections from Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration, the Michigan Civil Service Commission in January 2011 voted to have the state health insurance plan cover non-family members who’ve lived continuously with state workers for at least a year. GOP Attorney General Bill Schuette sued, saying the move was unconstitutional.

But the appeals court ruled the policy doesn’t conflict with a 2004 gay marriage ban that also prohibits the recognition of “similar” unions. Majority judges said it’s clear state employees can share benefits with a wide variety of other people besides only a gay partner.

“The policy appears to serve the negotiated, bargained-for needs of the individuals affected, and so we conclude that the policy passes muster under rational basis scrutiny,” Judges Amy Ronayne Krause and Stephen Borrello wrote in the majority decision, which affirms a ruling by an Ingham County judge.

Schuette vowed an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Dissenting Judge Michael Riordan said there was no evidence that the domestic-partner policy aims to attract and retain a qualified workforce.

If there were, he said, “there is no rational basis to arbitrarily draw the line between unmarried and married employees or related and unrelated individuals.”

In December 2011, Snyder signed a law blocking taxpayer-paid health insurance from being offered to domestic partners living with public employees. The measure – which is being challenged in federal court – doesn’t apply to public universities or many state employees.

The Civil Service Commission has constitutional responsibility for setting rates of compensation and benefits for nearly 50,000 state workers.

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