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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Same-Sex Couples Sue Michigan Governor

DETROIT (CN) - Public employees sued Michigan Gov. Richard Snyder, who signed a law "stripping family health care benefits only from the committed same-sex domestic partners of certain gay and lesbian public employees," but not from workers in traditional marriages.

The four plaintiff couples claim Michigan's Public Employees Domestic Partner Benefit Restriction Act is unconstitutional.

Snyder signed the bill on Dec. 22, 2011. It "prohibits certain public entities in Michigan from offering family health coverage to their employees' domestic partners," according to the federal complaint.

Lead plaintiffs Theresa Bassett, a public schoolteacher, and Carol Kennedy, have been together for 25 years and were married in California in 2008. They raised six children together. Kennedy, who is self-employed, has no health insurance of her own. Kennedy, however, is "covered through the school district's 'Other Qualified Adult' plan. Theresa pays taxes on the value of this coverage. Carol will lose her health insurance if the Public Employee Domestic Partner Benefit Restriction Act remains effective," according to the complaint.

"Because unmarried opposite-sex couples can become eligible for family benefits by marrying, and employers remain free to offer family health care benefits to any other family members, including aunts, nieces, siblings, or cousins, the only family members whom the Public Employees Domestic Partner Benefit Restriction Act bars from receiving family health care benefits are the domestic partners of lesbian and gay workers. The Act therefore imposes on gay and lesbian employees' families alone the burdens of being uninsured or underinsured: financial hardship, health-related anxiety, stress, and medical risk," the complaint states.

Other plaintiffs include another public schoolteacher, a Kalamazoo city worker and the Health Equity and Social Justice Coordinator for Ingham County.

They say: "The Act facially discriminates against gay and lesbian public employees by conditioning their employers' ability to grant benefits to any domestic partner who is not an IRS dependant on marriage or eligibility under the law of intestate succession, two statuses that are unavailable to gay and lesbian employees and their same-sex domestic partners under Michigan law.

"The House sponsors of the bill also made their discriminatory motivation clear in public statements leading up to the bills' passage. For instance, Representative Pete Lund called one public employer's decision to provide these benefits 'an absolute abomination' and decried 'this clearly political move that shifts people's hard earned dollars into the pockets of same-sex partners.'"

Since the bill took effect immediately upon signing, most of the plaintiffs' partners have already lost their insurance or will lose it soon. They seek an injunction suspending the law, for violating the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution.

They are represented by Michael Steinberg with the ACLU Fund of Michigan.

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