Michigan rules on same-sex partner benefits
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05/08/08 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday | Listen to this entire show:

In addition to voting for president in November, Floridians will decide whether a ban on same-sex marriage should be enshrined in the state’s constitution. Supporters of Amendment 2 say it only forbids same-sex marriage and does not affect health insurance or other benefits afforded to domestic partnerships. But the Michigan Supreme Court decided yesterday that their amendment prohibits governments from offering benefits to same-sex couples.

Florida Red and Blue, is a group that opposes Amendment 2. Derek Newton manages their Say No 2 campaign.

“It’s being sold to people, unfortunately, as a gay marriage ban, but it won’t do that. What it will actually do is prohibit the state from recognizing any relationship which is not marriage. We’ve been saying for a long time that that proposal could restrict the benefits that people receive from their employers or make it harder for people to share health care benefits if they’re not married, or visit loved ones in a hospital if they’re not married. All these types of things that in Florida we more or less take for granted could be taken away from people by Amendment 2.”

The case in Michigan was a legal challenge to public employers like cities, counties, and state universities that offered benefits to employees who are not married. Newton said the Michigan Supreme Court decision eliminated those benefits.

“In most cases, or I think in all the cases in this particular instance, the partners or the couples were same-sex couples. But the Supreme Court in Michigan ruled that giving those benefits violated the amendment on gay marriage, or as it was passed there as a gay marriage ban, and struck down those benefits, actually taking away health care benefits from several hundred citizens in Michigan.”

John Stemberger is state chairman of Yes2Marriage.org, which is the official sponsoring group of Amendment 2, the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment.

Derek Newton agrees that the amendment languages in the two states are different, but he said it could still have the same effect.

“If you read the language in the Florida amendment where it says anything ‘that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof’ is not ‘valid or recognized,’ that’s our concern. And what will ultimately happen, as happened in Michigan, is a court will decide what that means. And if a court decides that means domestic partnerships are invalid, then they’re invalid. And in Florida, the consequences for that will be catastrophic. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people who depend on those benefits, most of them seniors, senior citizens who will lose them. And that’s what we’ve been concerned about all along.”

Terry Kemple, president of Community Issues Council, a group that supports Amendment 2, said Florida courts would not take benefits away from domestic partners if Amendment 2 passes, in part because the amendment is similar to an existing Florida law known as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Newton questioned Terry Kemple’s interpretation of the Florida Supreme Court’s analysis of Amendment 2.

“They’re very clear in saying they’re really only allowed to consider a couple of things. Is the title misleading? Does it cover one subject or more than one subject? … And what they said is that it was one subject and that the title was not misleading. They did not in any way, and I think the opinion says this very clearly, this should not be inferred in any way to say that they support or oppose the amendment. It should not be inferred that they have any opinion other than relating to those very specific parameters. So when the people who support the amendment say the Supreme Court said it was fine, well, that’s just not true, the Supreme Court didn’t give it a clean bill of health to say that it’s perfectly fine.”

Newton said the only independent analysis of what the consequences of Amendment 2 will be was by the Office of Economic & Demographic Research of the Florida Legislature. The report said that Amendment 2 could be used to strike down domestic partnerships, ending benefits for unmarried people, according to Newton.

Stemberger said that the report from the Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research was only an economic, not a legal analysis.

Kemple said if a Florida city or county grants domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples, it would not be considered the “substantial equivalent” of marriage and would not be affected by Amendment 2.

But Derek Newton, from Say No 2, said he’s heard reassurances like that before.

“The people who proposed the ban in Michigan said the same thing. I have three pages of quotes and literature and commercials that they ran in Michigan saying that there’s no way their amendment could take away benefits from people. And the Supreme Court in Michigan ruled yesterday it does in fact exactly that. So all we have to do is look at what happened in other states when people promised it wouldn’t take away benefits, it did. And now the people in Florida are promising it won’t take away benefits, well, it will.”

Learn more:

Previous WMNF coverage of Amendment 2

Say No 2

Yes On 2

Equality Florida

Amendment 2 Florida Marriage Protection Amendment

Michigan amendment banning same-sex marriage

Office of Economic & Demographic Research of the Florida Legislature analysis of Amendment 2

Supreme Court of Florida Advisory

Text of Florida’s proposed Amendment 2: “Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

According to the website of the Attorney General of Michigan, the text of that state’s constitutional amendment is: “To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children, the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.”

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Newton not telling the truth about Michigan

Mr. Newton is either simply ignorant or he's lying. No one in Michigan has lost any employment benefit. The only thing the Michigan Supreme Court said is unconstitutional is specifically so-called "domestic partner" benefits, i.e., benefits expressly based on the govt employer recognizing homosexual relationships as equal or similar to marriage. Nothing about the court decision prevents public employers from offering benefits to anyone they choose, including homosexual partners, so long as the offering is broad-based and available to categories of employees other than homosexual partners. Even the opponents of Michigan's Marriage Protection Amendment dispute what Newton falsely claims. The MI Supreme Court simply upheld an earlier ruling by the state Court of Appeals. Attorney Jay Kaplan of the Michigan ACLU, lead counsel for the homosexual plaintiffs in the case decided, last June told Lansing City Pulse: "'The Michigan Court of Appeals decision never said that public employers could not provide health care coverage to domestic partners of employees,' Kaplan wrote in an e-mail. He said that employers can provide health insurance coverage for domestic partners as long as they do not specifically recognize the domestic partner relationship — by filing domestic partner benefit forms, for example — when determining criteria for insurance eligibility." http://www.lansingcitypulse.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1133&Itemid=2 Between the Lines, a homosexual activist newsweekly in Detroit, reported: "(ACLU-Michigan lawyer Jay) Kaplan says that even under the Appeals Court ruling, benefits can be offered, but they have to be done in a way which does not recognize same-sex partners or relationships." http://www.pridesource.com/article.shtml?article=25497 Kalamazoo Alliance for Equality, a homosexual activist group, said last June in a news release: "The Michigan Court of Appeals did not say that health insurance coverage for domestic partners is illegal. The court said that public employers cannot use criteria that recognizes the domestic partner relationship." http://www.tri.org/docs/Kzoodprallies.doc In the last two days, the following media reports also dispute Newton's false characterizations: Associated Press -- "Gay rights advocates said the ruling is devastating but also are confident that public-sector employers have successfully rewritten or will revise their benefit plans so same-sex partners can KEEP GETTING HEALTH CARE." Lansing State Journal -- "A potentially devastating ruling Wednesday by Michigan's high court about same-sex benefits is likely to HAVE LITTLE LOCAL EFFECT. That's because months ago many Lansing officials began rewording their domestic partner benefits packages." Ann Arbor News -- "When a Michigan Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday upheld a ban on governments and universities extending benefits to the gay partners of employees, the University of Michigan and city of Ann Arbor were already prepared. U-M and the city had previously altered their policies by taking out any mention of 'same-sex.' That revision should allow them to CONTINUE EXTENDING BENEFITS (including to homosexual partners) within the law, said officials with the ACLU, city of Ann Arbor and U-M." Detroit Free Press -- "There is likely to be no immediate impact from the ruling because public employers in Michigan who had offered such benefits already had changed their policies to ensure their employees' partners would remain covered. ...Since the passage of the amendment, public employers in Michigan who offered such benefits already had changed their policies. Dozens of public employees' partners most likely will be able to continue to be eligible for health care under benefit changes that allow unmarried employees to cover a designated beneficiary."

CEO

These are basic civil rights that should be attainable by all Americans. For the truth about gay marriage check out our trailer. Produced to educate & defuse the controversy it has a way of opening closed minds & provides some sanity on the issue: www.OUTTAKEonline.com

president

By definition, a license is NOT a basic right or it would not be a license. You are required to meet certain criteria and maintain those criteria to be granted many types of licenses (hunting, driving, contracting, flying, etc.). The basic right of employers (or, for that matter, you and I)to award their property (or money) to anyone they please is not and sould not be infringed upon with this amendment. Florida's ammendment is even more carefully crafted than the others inorder to ensure THAT basic right. This will not harm any of our state's seniors, gay or straight. It only enforces already long existing DOMA laws that are now under attack by militant gay activists like "CEO."