November 12, 2014 at 3:19 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Court rules against Michigan ban on DP benefits
Rick Snyder, Michigan, gay news, Washington Blade

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a ban on domestic partner benefits for state employees. (Photo by Major.guy2012; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

In the wake of federal appeals court decision upholding Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage, a lower court on Wednesday struck down a law in the state prohibiting the flow of domestic partner benefits to public workers in same-sex relationships.

In a 35-page decision, U.S. District Judge David Lawson, a Clinton appointee, ruled the Public Employee Domestic Partner Benefit Restriction Act violates equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment “because it unlawfully discriminates against the same-sex partners of public employees without a legitimate basis for doing so.”

“The plaintiff-couples have been in long-term, committed relationships, but cannot marry because Michigan law forbids it,” Lawson writes. “Each of the non-employee partners enjoyed health care coverage provided by the local unit of government as a benefit furnished to the municipal employee. And each of the non-employee partners suffers from medical conditions that require or will require medical treatment.”

Michigan was already enjoined from enforcing the law because of a preliminary injunction that Lawson issued in June 2013 shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act. But the judge hadn’t yet made a final ruling.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who was recently re-elected on Election Day, signed into law the measure in 2011. It prohibited prohibited local units of government from extending health benefits to non-related adults living in the same home as a public employee. In his signing statement, Snyder said the law doesn’t extend to university employees or state employees under civil service.

The judge didn’t act further on the lawsuit as litigation seeking marriage equality in Michigan proceeded through the courts, but now that the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the state’s marriage ban, Lawson writes he determined it was time for him to issue a ruling.

“[Th]is case deals with couples who cannot marry under state law and their families,” Lawson writes. “It is one thing to say that states may cleave to the traditional definition of marriage as a means of encouraging biologically complimentary couples to stay together and raise the offspring they produce. It is quite another to say that a state may adopt a narrow definition of family, and pass laws that penalize those unions and households that do not conform.”

Joy Yearout, a spokesperson for Michigan Attorney Bill Schuette, said the court decision is “under review” and the state has 30 days to decide whether to appeal.

NOTE: This article has been clarified to denote the law affected municipal employees, not state workers.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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