Governor Rick Snyder signed the Public Employee Domestic Partner Benefit Restriction Act into law in December of 2011.
It banned public employers from providing benefits to non-married domestic partners. Its intent was to keep gay and lesbian employees from providing benefits to their partners.
At the time, Gov. Snyder pointed out that the law didn't apply to state universities and some state workers. But it did apply to other public employees, including public school teachers.
A lawsuit, Basset et al v. Snyder, challenged the Act shortly after it went into effect.
Today, a federal judge released a preliminary injunction against that law, meaning that gay and lesbian public employees can't be denied health insurance anymore.
The ACLU and Kirkland & Ellis LLP challenged the law on behalf of five gay and lesbian public employees and their partners.
The federal judge, Judge David M. Lawson, ruled that the law was unconstitutional. His opinion stated:
"There is no fundamental right to public employment,; accordingly, there cannot be a fundamental right to fringe benefits granted as compensation for public employees."
In a statement, Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, said:
"This law served no purpose to the state of Michigan other than to needlessly discriminate against hard-working families. It's hard to encourage talented people and their families to work for public employers in Michigan when they're denied the ability to take care of each other."
Two of the plaintiffs are employed by Ann Arbor Public Schools.
According to a story by Danielle Arndt of Annarbor.com in May, Ann Arbor Public Schools worked hard to provide benefits to same-sex couples. The district had offered benefits to those couples since 1993. But, due to the Domestic Partner Benefit Restriction Law, as well as the union opening its contract to take a pay cut of 3%, gay and lesbian teachers were going to lose those benefits on June 30, 2013.
"Ann Arbor Public Schools is a proponent of domestic partner benefits, said district spokeswoman Liz Margolis. "AAPS does not believe this is the right law for our employees and have done all we can to allow for partner benefits. It is interesting that the governor does not think this law applies to university or civil service employees, but (he) has not come out with a statement about K-12 employees. Thus, we are required to follow the law.
Today Arndt wrote that the Supreme Court ruling earlier this week, and Judge Lawson's ruling, have allowed benefits to be reinstated.
Who are Basset et al?
The ACLU released client profiles of the five gay and lesbian public employees who challenged the law:
Theresa Bassett and Carol Kennedy
This couple is from Ann Arbor, Michigan and have six kids who are between eight and 22-years-old. Bassett and Kennedy have been in a relationship for 25 years. Bassett works for Ann Arbor Public Schools as a 6th and 8th grade math teacher and her partner, Kennedy, is a self-employed daycare provider.
Bassett's employer (AAPS) extends health care coverage to Kennedy, but the law prohibited it. Kennedy's family has a history of breast cancer, and purchasing comprehensive coverage on her own would cost an extra $800 a month.
Peter Ways and Joe Breakey
Ways and Breakey are also from Ann Arbor, Michigan. They have a nine-year-old daughter and have been in a relationship for over 20 years. Ways works at Ann Arbor Public Schools and his health care also covers his partner who is self-employed as a therapist.
Their situation is similar to Bassett and Kennedy's in that individual health insurance would be too expensive. The couple were considering moving back to Washington so that Ways could get a different job that provided benefits to the whole family.
Jolinda Jach Barbara Ramber
Jach and Ramber are from Kalamazoo, Michigan and have two young children. They've been in a relationship for 17 years. Jach works for the City of Kalamazoo and her employer would extend health insurance to Ramber who has glaucoma and rheumatoid arthritis. Without Jach's coverage, Ramber could purchase individual health insurance through her employer, but it would cost over half of her monthly pay.
Doak Bloss and Gerardo Ascheri
Bloss and Ascheri are from Lansing, Michigan. They have been in a relationship for 18 years. Doak whas worked for Ingham County for 15 years and his insurance would extend to his partner. If Ascheri, a piano teacher, wasn't covered by Doak's insurance, he would have to pay nearly $500 a month in premiums.
Denise Miller and Michelle Johnson
Miller and Johnson are from Kalamazoo, Michigan. There isn't more information on these plaintiffs.
- Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom
*Clarification - in an earlier post we wrote the law "banned public employers from providing benefits to gay and lesbian partners (non-related adults) of employees." We changed the language above to clarify the language contained in the law.