The lawsuit over whether Michigan's marriage amendment
prevents employers from providing health insurance to the same-sex domestic
partners of employers has now been decided by the Michigan Supreme Court.
What happened. On
December 18, 2004, Michigan's state constitution acquired a new amendment that
defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The amendment (Const
1963, Art. 1, Sec. 25) reads: "To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage
for our society and for future generations of children, the union of one man
and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage
or similar union for any purpose."
An organization called National Pride at Work sued the state,
asking the court to rule that this amendment does not prohibit public employers
from providing healthcare benefits to employees' same-sex domestic partners.
The trial court agreed with the group, but in February 2007, the Court of
Appeals reversed that decision, holding that the marriage amendment does bar public employers from providing health insurance
benefits to their employees' qualified same-sex domestic partners. National
Pride appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.
What the court said. In the early and mid-2000s, a number of public employers in Michigan offered
benefits to the domestic partners of employees. The cities of Kalamazoo and Ann
Arbor, the University of Michigan, and Michigan State University all provided
benefits to couples who met certain requirements, such as sharing a residence
and living expenses and signing a certificate of exclusive domestic
The plaintiffs argued that the only thing prohibited by the
amendment was the recognition of same-sex partnerships as marriages, and that
providing health insurance did not amount to recognition of unions as
marriages. The Michigan Supreme Court, following the ruling of the Court of
Appeals, disagreed. It found that the act of providing benefits to domestic
partners had the effect of recognizing those partnerships as unions similar to
marriages. It noted that employers' rules about domestic partnerships defined
these unions in a fashion similar to laws specifying who can marry. For
example, most employers specify the sex of the partners (i.e., same-sex) and
insist that the partners could not be related by blood, both of which the court
found similar to the rules applying to marriage.
The Court further found that by providing benefits to
domestic partners, employers were recognizing the partnerships as valid. The
justices found that this went against the language of the amendment, which
makes male-female marriage the only "agreement" recognizable as a valid
partnership. The amendment prohibits recognition of partnerships other than marriages
"for any purpose," which the Court found to include the provision of health
insurance benefits. In sum, the Supreme Court found that the amendment's
purpose of preserving the benefits of marriage by prohibiting the recognition
of any alternative arrangement for any purpose definitely precluded employers'
providing health insurance benefits to same-sex domestic partners.
Two justices dissented, arguing that health insurance is not
a benefit of marriage as defined by state law, but is instead a benefit of
employment. They also expressed concern that the groups campaigning for the
amendment's passage had misled voters. The amendment's chief supporters, the
Michigan Christian Citizens Alliance (MCA), had reportedly promised throughout
its campaign that the amendment would not prevent public employers from
providing domestic partner benefits. During the lawsuit, however, the MCA
argued that the amendment's language prohibited public employers from granting
those benefits. The majority chose to discount this information, finding that
the language of the amendment trumped any promises made to secure support for
it, but the dissent feared that this would encourage organizations campaigning
for causes in the future to make promises they had no intention of keeping. National
Pride at Work v. Governor of Michigan, Michigan Supreme Court, No. 133429 (5/7/08).
Point to remember: The state's highest court has spoken: There will be no health insurance
benefits for domestic partners of public employees.