Federal judge blocks Michigan ban on domestic partnership benefits

A 2011 law prevented public employers from offering benefits to same-sex couples

Published June 28, 2013 8:13PM (EDT)

A federal judge in Michigan has blocked a state ban preventing public officials from offering domestic partnership benefits, finding that the law is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution.

Michigan Live reports:

The decision from U.S. District Judge David S. Lawson grants an injunction which prevents Gov. Rick Snyder and state officials from enforcing the 2011 law prohibiting cities, counties and other public employers from offering benefits to same-sex domestic partners.

A group of five same-sex couples had filed suit against Snyder and the state alleging the law violated the U.S. Constitution by violating due process and equal protection rights. Attorneys for the state had argued the couples lacked standing to bring the suit and had not suffered an identifiable injury as a result of the law.

"It is hard to argue with a straight face that the primary purpose -- indeed, perhaps the sole purpose -- of the statute is other than to deny health benefits to the same-sex partners of public employees," Lawson said, the Associated Press reports. "But that can never be a legitimate governmental purpose."

The state had argued that the ban was for the purposes of saving the state money, in “an interest in protecting marriage,” and also adhered to the will of the state's voters, who had passed a 2004 constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. But Lawson wrote that these claims "come close to striking (the court) with the force of a 5-week-old, unrefrigerated dead fish."

State officials are prevented from enforcing the law until a final decision is made on whether or not it is constitutional -- though even if it is struck down, employers will still not be required to provide benefits to same-sex couples.

By Jillian Rayfield

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at jrayfield@salon.com.

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Doma Domestic Partnerships Marriage Equality Michigan Rick Snyder