Group Sues to Halt to Same-Sex Benefits

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

By DAVID EGGERT, Associated Press Writer

LANSING, Mich. — A conservative group on Wednesday sued to stop Michigan State University from offering health insurance to the partners of gay and lesbian workers and said the school is violating the state constitution.

The American Family Association of Michigan hopes to get a ruling setting a precedent that would block domestic partner benefits at other state universities. Schools in the state that provide benefits to same-sex couples include the University of Michigan, Wayne State and Central Michigan.

Deborah Labelle, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said the suit is pointless because a state appeals court is already set to rule on the issue. She characterized attempts to strip benefits from same-sex partners as"mean-spirited."

The lawsuit's purpose is to ensure that courts rule on the constitutionality of domestic partner benefits at public universities, said Patrick Gillen, an attorney for the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, which is representing the American Family Association.

By providing the benefits, Michigan State is"recognizing same-sex marriage in substance, if not by label,"Gillen said.

Michigan State spokesman Terry Denbow said the school would not comment on pending litigation.

In 2004, Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment that made the union between a man and a woman the only agreement recognized as a marriage"or similar union for any purpose."

Those six words spurred a legal fight over benefits for the partners of gay employees who work for public employers. Gays say voters meant to prevent gay marriage but never intended to keep them from getting health insurance.

Twenty-one gay couples, including employees at Michigan State, sued the state in 2005 after Attorney General Mike Cox, a Republican, issued an opinion interpreting the amendment as barring domestic partner benefits in future contracts.


On the Net:

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