Michigan rules on same-sex partner benefits listen05/08/08 Seán Kinane
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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.”
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.”