Michigan court strikes domestic partnership benefits

The opponents of Amendment 2, aimed at discriminating against gay couples who want to share the same marrriage/partnership benefits as straight couples, have been saying it for a long time, and now the Michigan Supreme Court agrees: a law there aimed at gay marriage has been applied to strip domestic partnership benefits already granted to same-sex couples.

This from Florida Red and Blue, one of two main groups fighting the November ballot initiative:

Dear SayNo2 Supporter:

It’s not often acceptable to say, “We told you so.”

But on occasion, nothing quite says it better.

Just hours ago, the Supreme Court of Michigan ruled that that state’s amendment banning ‘gay marriage’ also prohibits offering benefits to unmarried employees.

This is the exact scenario we’ve been talking about from the start – Amendment 2 could be used to strip existing benefits from Floridians.

We’ve said it, the Florida Legislature’s independent analysis says it and, today, the Michigan Supreme Court confirmed it – broadly worded amendments sold to ban ‘gay-marriage’ will actually take away benefits from everyone.

When we’ve talked about what Amendment 2 can do, the sponsors have been quick to deny it.

In fact, right now, their website says: “our amendment will not invalidate benefits granted from domestic partnerships or any other source.”

Sure. Tell us another one.

Want to hear the kicker?

According to today’s Michigan ruling the Justices on the losing side, wrote, “circumstances surrounding the election suggest Michigan voters didn't intend to take away people's benefits.”

And the Associated Press reported today that legal arguments were made in which, “…the ballot committee that sponsored Proposal 2 "consistently and repeatedly" assured voters that the initiative was only about protecting marriage.”

Remember, our opponents – the sponsors of Amendment 2 – claim that their amendment “will not invalidate benefits granted from domestic partnerships or any other source.”

But there’s just no argument any more.

The court's opinion came in National Pride at Work Inc. v. Governor of Michigan.

(An important aside: A reading of the opinion in the case finds the decision narrowly tailored to prohibit granting same-sex domestic partnership benefits for public employees. It is not clear from the case whether private company benefits would similarly be prohibited, or if domestic partnership benefits for straight non-married couples would similarly be banned, and, of course, the ruling is not binding on Florida courts.)

Florida Red and Blue is dead on point about the "reassurance" that Florida's Amendment 2 supporters make about their amendment not taking away partnership benefits. Here is what the Michigan court said about that:

Plaintiffs and the dissent argue that Citizens for the Protection of Marriage, an organization responsible for placing the marriage amendment on the 2004 ballot and a primary supporter of this initiative during the ensuing campaign, published a brochure that indicated that the proposal would not preclude public employers from offering health-insurance benefits to their employees’ domestic partners. However, such extrinsic evidence can hardly be used to contradict the unambiguous language of the constitution.

In fact, the Yes2Marriage group's language and tack is eerily similar to that used in Michigan anti-gay marriage brochures:

Marriage is a union between a husband and wife. Proposal 2 will keep it that way. This is not about rights or benefits or how people choose to live their life. This has to do with family, children and the way people are. It merely settles the question once and for all what marriage is—for families today and future generations.

When it comes to the law, it is about what the people vote on, not what supporters promise, as the Michigan court reinforced in a footnote to its decision:

 … [I]t should bear little repeating that the people ultimately did not cast their votes to approve or disapprove counsel’s, or any other person’s, statements concerning the amendment; they voted to approve or disapprove the language of the amendment itself.

(photo from 2007 St. Pete Pride Parade by Tom Stovall) 

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