Arts & Entertainment
Michigan Court Upholds Benefits for State Employees
Schuette Fails For Now Using Marriage Amendment Argument
By Crystal A. Proxmire
Originally printed 1/10/2013 (Issue 2102 - Between The Lines News)
LANSING - The Michigan Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling, has upheld the rights of unionized state employees to have medical benefits extend to one non-married, non-related household companion as part of their employment benefits. In a decision published Jan. 8, the court affirmed the right of UAW 6000 to keep benefits that were negotiated into their contracts. The court said it's not the place of courts to second-guess the wisdom of state action.
Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette's office brought the lawsuit against the UAW because it offered benefits that he said conflicted with the Michigan Marriage Amendment passed in 2004, which prohibits recognizing any "agreement" other than "the union of one man and one woman in marriage" as "a marriage or similar union for any purpose." The Attorney General asserted that offering medical benefits to anyone other than a spouse is a violation of this Amendment and therefore unconstitutional.
Ray Holman, Legislative Liaison for UAW Local 6000 said that he is "really happy with the ruling," and that he hopes the Attorney General's office does not appeal further. "We bargained fair and square with Gov. Granholm's administration. They (Schuette) didn't like our contract and they thought they could come in an overturn it. But our collective bargaining rights have been preserved."
UAW Local 6000 represents over 22,000 employees in all 17 branches of State Government. "We're the largest state employee union," Holman said. "The Civil Service Commission approved this...I don't see why the Attorney General is spending money fighting this. He said it was for financial concerns, but it did not cost much money to implement. Only a very few take advantage of it. But it's important because when you talk about state workers, you're talking skilled employees - doctors, lawyers, people in the prison system. Quite a bit of this work requires advanced degrees. And if you want to attract the best people we need to have benefits that fit people's needs."
A previous case had prohibited benefits to same-sex partners because that benefit wording specifically compared same-sex partners to spouses. The UAW 6000 package did not make that comparison. It did not mention sex or gender at all, simply providing that the employee could share benefits with another adult who is not a blood relative as long as that employee is not married.
The appeals court noted in their Jan. 8 decision that "an employee could share benefits with a same-sex boyfriend or girlfriend, but the same employee could also share those benefits with an opposite-sex boyfriend or girlfriend, or with a nonromantic best friend, or a mere housemate. We would not think it impossible, or even unlikely, that any two people of any sex might share a friendship close enough to give rise to a shared domicile and a desire to share health care benefits. Considering the present state of the economy and prevalence of shared housing for reasons that may involve simple economics, we think it unreasonable to predict same-sex domestic partnerships to necessarily be the most benefitted group under this policy."
The Attorney General's office also argued that the policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution by discriminating against married people. They argued that since only an unmarried worker could share their benefits, it violated the rights of the married workers. The Appellate Court dismissed this claim, pointing out that that defendants had to "draw the line" somewhere in allowing benefits.
The Attorney General could still appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. With a majority of conservative Justices, there is still a possibility that these benefits could be removed. But for now, the benefits continue. Schuette's office has not yet responded to request for comment on the case.