Federal District Court Blocks Michigan Law Eliminating Health Benefits for Domestic Partners of Public Employees (Posted on July 4, 2013 by )

US District Court, Eastern District of MichiganMichigan Public Act 297 (“Act”) prohibits public employers from providing medical and other fringe benefits to any person cohabitating with a public employee unless that person is legally married to the employee, or is a legal dependent, or eligible to inherit under the State’s intestacy laws. In a June 28 decision, U.S. District Judge David Lawson (E.D. Mich.) has issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the Act based on a finding that the plaintiffs (same-sex couples of which one works for a Michigan local government) “have stated a viable claim based on the Equal Protection Clause on which they are likely to succeed.”

The Act did not by its terms make reference to gay or lesbian employees. Nevertheless, Judge Lawson found that, “The historical background and legislative history of the Act demonstrate that it was motivated by animus against gay men and lesbians.”

The decision relied in part on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Windsor, which struck down the provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act which had precluded federal recognition of same-sex marriages. It did not find a right to same-sex marriage, which is in fact prohibited by the Michigan constitution. It also did not require Michigan public employers to provide health benefits to same-sex partners. Instead, it merely returned to the situation before passage of the Act, in which local governments were free to adopt such benefits on a voluntary basis or to negotiate with unions for such benefits.