In a two-to-one, split decision, Michigan’s Court of Appeals yesterday upheld an Ingham County Circuit Court's ruling that threw out a lawsuit filed by Michigan’s Attorney General against the state Civil Service Commission. Judges Amy Ronayne Krause and Stephen L. Borrello found that “This dispute concerns the constitutionality of defendants’ decision to extend eligibility in the State Health Plan (SHP) to “other eligible adult individuals” (OEAI benefits), who were co-residents of state employees and nonexclusively represented employees (NEREs). … Apparently, it is [the Attorney General’s] underlying belief that [the Civil Service Commission’s] decision, after extensive negotiation with the unions, to permit unmarried employees to share their health care benefits with another unrelated person is an attempt to circumvent Michigan’s prohibition against recognizing any “agreement” other than “the union of one man and one woman in marriage” as “a marriage or similar union for any purpose.” … [A]lthough our Supreme Court concluded that the Marriage Amendment precluded recognition of domestic partnerships for purposes of providing health-care benefits, our Supreme Court did not resolve that health-care benefits are a specific benefit of marriage or that the Marriage Amendment somehow precludes employers from offering health-care benefits to people other than spouses of employees. Consequently, there is no absolute prohibition against same-sex domestic partners receiving benefits through their relationship with an employee so long as that receipt is not based on the employer’s recognition of that relationship as a “marriage or similar union.””
Even though Judge Krause and Judge Borrello ultimately found in favor of the Civil Service Commission, they did point out what they deemed to be absurdities within the union contract at issue in the Attorney General’s lawsuit. “The restrictions excluding married employees from sharing their benefits with persons other than their spouses and excluding employees from sharing their benefits with blood relatives strike us as ridiculous."
The unpublished majority opinion concluded by finding “that the benefits-sharing policy at issue in this case is within that [the Civil Service Commission’s] authority to implement, does not violate equal protection and does not violate the Marriage Amendment.”
In his dissent, Judge Michael J. Riordan opined that, “[w]hile honoring the collective bargaining process certainly is important, it cannot be done in violation of the constitution. The OEAI provision endorses an arbitrary distinction between classes of people based on familial relations, with no rational basis and no factual basis for such a distinction. … As it is written, the OEAI provision is unlawful and the lower court’s opinion should be reversed."
UPDATE: Attorney General Bill Schuette's office, through spokeswoman Joy Yearout, has released the following statement: "The Attorney General disagrees with the opinion issued by the court today and he intends to appeal."
(NOTE: At the time of this updated publication, attorneys representing the Civil Service Commission had not returned this reporter’s phone calls seeking comment on this case)