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Judge strikes down Michigan ban on partner benefits


In a preliminary ruling, a federal judge has struck down a state law that prohibits public employers from offering health coverage and other benefits to the live-in partners of gay and lesbian employees.

The state law was aimed at at least 10 Michigan school districts, municipalities, counties, and community colleges that made provisions to ensure the benefits of employees in same-sex relationships covered by their partners and any children they might be raising together. That after voters approved a ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions in the Michigan Constitution.

U.S. District Court Judge David Lawson says the law serves no compelling public interest, but it does deny equal protection to people in same-sex relationships. He ordered the state to stop enforcing the ban. 

Michael Steinberg is with the American Civil Liberties Union. 

"This decision will allow cities and schools to again attract and retain the best talent in the state. Hopefully, lesbian and gay residents will now stay in Michigan and not flee to states that are more willing to respect their relationships."

Governor Rick Snyder signed PA 297 in 2011, but in his signing statement said it could not be enforced against state agencies and public universities. That's because the Michigan Civil Service Commission has sole authority over classified state employers and the Michigan Constitution grants public universities a great deal of independence.

The public employers that offered live-in partner benefits prior that were outlawed by PA 297 are: The cities of Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor; the school districts of Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Birmingham, and Farmington; Eaton, Ingham, and Washtenaw counties; and Saginaw Valley Community College and Lansing Community College.

Currently, 124 state Civil Service employees have enrolled their live-in partners at an annual cost of $690,000.

There's no word on whether the state intends to appeal the preliminary ruling. The state Attorney General's office says the decision is under review. 

There is also another ruling expected soon from a federal judge that could affect adoption rights for same-sex couples in Michigan, as well as the ban on gay marriage.

*This post has been updated.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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