US: Michigan court upholds policy allowing healthcare benefits to partners of gay state employees

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The Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld a policy from the Michigan Civil Service Commission which grants healthcare benefits to same-sex partners of state employees.

The policy was challenged by Attorney General Bill Schuette, who said it violated a 2004 constitutional amendment passed by voters in the state of Michigan, defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Michigan courts had also ruled that extending health benefits to same-sex partners would violate the amendment, reported the Detroit Free Press.

In order to get around the constitutional amendment, the Civil Service Commission, as well as several universities and some local governments, changed their policies to extend the benefits to roommates who are not immediate family members.

Bill Schuette had argued that the policy by the commission was unconstitutional because, he said, it was “specifically and explicitly intended to confer benefits on same-sex partners.”

The court disagreed, however, in a 2-1 decision.

“The policy is unambiguously gender-neutral,” and “it does not depend on the employee being in a close relationship of any particular kind … beyond a common residence,” Judges Any Ronayne Krause and Stephen Borrello said in the majority opinion.

Judge Michael Riordan dissented, saying there was “no rational basis” for the policy to be kept as stated. He said it was unconstitional to give benefits to one group of citizens at the expense of another without a rational basis.

It is possible that the decision may be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

In Washington state, a judge said today that he is not legally obliged to perform equal marriage ceremonies, and that he won’t make himself available for them, despite equal marriage becoming legal in the state in December.