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Guest Article

Deloitte logo

(From the May 19, 2008 issue of Deloitte's Washington Bulletin, a periodic update of legal and regulatory developments relating to Employee Benefits.)

Public Employers in Michigan May Not Offer Same-Sex Domestic Partner Benefits, Michigan Supreme Court Rules


Michigan's Constitution prohibits public entities in that state from providing health insurance benefits to their employees' same-sex domestic partners, according to the Michigan Supreme Court. National Pride at Work, et al. v. Governor of Michigan, et al., No. 133429 (Mich. S.C. May 7, 2008). The ruling is based on the so-called "marriage amendment" to Michigan's Constitution, which was approved by a voter referendum in 2004. Although 25 other states have similar constitutional amendments, the Michigan Supreme Court's ruling applies only to public employers in Michigan.

According to a database maintained by the Human Rights Campaign, nationwide 13 state governments, 144 county and local governments, and 304 colleges and universities (both public and private) offer benefits to their employees' domestic partners. More than 8,600 private employers offer domestic partner benefits, including 270 of the Fortune 500 companies.

Overview

At the time the Michigan marriage amendment was ratified, several local governments and public universities offered health insurance benefits to employees' same-sex domestic partners. Additionally, a major union had reached a tentative agreement to make same-sex domestic partner health insurance benefits available to its members employed by the state government. The validity of these same-sex domestic partner benefits was cast into doubt by the marriage amendment, which provides as follows:

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.

As noted, 25 other states have adopted similar "marriage amendments," and 19 more have laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. However, the Michigan amendment is unique in that it goes well beyond banning same-sex marriages. The language specifically precluding recognition of a "similar union for any purpose" is broad enough to prevent public employers from offering same-sex domestic partner benefits to employees, the Michigan Supreme Court found.

Limited Reach

Neither the Michigan Constitution nor the Michigan Supreme Court has jurisdiction over public employers in any other state. It is up to the courts of each of the 44 other states that have adopted marriage amendments or similar laws to determine if they likewise prohibit public employers from offering same-sex domestic partner benefits. So far, at least, no other state court has reached that conclusion. Furthermore, the differences between the Michigan marriage amendment's wording and that used in other states' provisions render the reasoning employed in the Michigan Supreme Court's decision largely irrelevant to similar cases in other jurisdictions.

Additionally, the Michigan Supreme Court's decision does not affect the ability of private-sector employers in Michigan or any other state from extending health insurance or other benefits to employees' same-sex domestic partners.


Deloitte logoThe information in this Washington Bulletin is general in nature only and not intended to provide advice or guidance for specific situations.

If you have any questions or need additional information about articles appearing in this or previous versions of Washington Bulletin, please contact: Robert Davis 202.879.3094, Elizabeth Drigotas 202.879.4985, Mary Jones 202.378.5067, Stephen LaGarde 202.879-5608, Erinn Madden 202.572.7677, Bart Massey 202.220.2104, Mark Neilio 202.378.5046, Martha Priddy Patterson 202.879.5634, Tom Pevarnik 202.879.5314, Sandra Rolitsky 202.220.2025, Tom Veal 312.946.2595, Deborah Walker 202.879.4955.

Copyright 2008, Deloitte.


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