Michigan state law allows health benefits for school employees and their spouses.
It does not allow health benefits for domestic partners.
US District Judge David Lawson struck down this law on June 28. He based his decision on the recent Supreme Court decision overturning the first half of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
State law determines what benefits public school employees will receive. These benefits are paid for out of the state coffers. One would think that this would be a state’s rights issue, determined by the state’s legal definition of what constitutes a spouse.
However, the recent Supreme Court decision has allowed the judge to overstep state definitions of marriage and require the State of Michigan to extend health care benefits to domestic partners.
According to CNA:
U.S. District Judge David Lawson’s June 28 ruling said it can “never be a legitimate purpose” to deny health benefits to the same-sex partners of public employees. He said the plaintiffs who lost benefits or had to pay for more expensive private health insurance have a “plausible claim” that the law violates the U.S. Constitution.
The 2011 law ended same-sex partner benefits for a few school districts, the counties of Ingham and Washtenaw and the cities of Ann Arbor, East Lansing and Kalamazoo, the Associated Press said.
Defenders of the law said it was passed in the spirit of a 2004 constitutional amendment that defined marriage as a union of a man and a woman. That amendment won 58 percent of the vote.
This, of course, raises other questions for Michigan, and for all states. The Supreme Court decision essentially overturned state definitions of marriage as between one man and one woman, at least for all practical purposes. The Michigan case is just one small example of how far-reaching this Supreme Court decision actually is.
It will require a change in how the states pay for things such as employee benefits and entitlements. This district court decision pushes the envelope past legal marriages and into the area of domestic partnerships. Since our laws are required to be equal in their applications, that means that it does not just apply to domestic partnerships between same-sex couples, but between virtually anyone.
I realize that is not what the judge specifically addressed in his ruling, but that is the impact of the ruling. It may take a few court cases to make the point, but if this ruling stands up under appeal, that will be its effect in the long term.
The question immediately arises: How are the states going to pay for this? The answer, I’m pretty sure, is that they can’t. Oklahoma is actually in better financial condition than many states, and we would be flummoxed trying to provide benefits for every live-in “domestic partnership.” Of course, the federal government might decide to step in with huge subsidies for these benefits, but that raises the ugly question of how they are going to pay for it.
The only financially responsible answer that provides equal protection under the law that I can see is to either change state laws to redefine marriage to include gay couples and then wait for the next big trendy change allowing polygamy, followed by benefits to cohabiting heterosexuals, OR, do away with benefits for everybody. That is the effect of the Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA on the states.
I have no doubt that in the long run — and I’m talking about years, maybe a decade, but not much longer — where we will end up is doing away with benefits for everyone. It will be a simple financial imperative.
Welcome to the brave new world of marriage is whatever we say it is today.