Health benefits for unmarried couples ruled constitutional

By Brian Frasier Dolan Media Newswires State agencies can allow "domestic partnership'' policies" for unmarried adult co-residents of their employees, the Michigan Court of Appeals held in the unpublished Attorney General v. Civil Service Commission. A court majority drew a distinction between the situation in National Pride at Work v. Governor, a 2008 case in which the Michigan Supreme Court said state agencies couldn't confer benefits for same-sex partners because of the Michigan Marriage Amendment. The differences between the policies in each case are significant, the majority said. "Our Supreme Court concluded that the domestic partnerships under discussion were being treated as 'marriage[s] or similar union[s]' within themeaning of the Marriage Amendment," the majority wrote in a per curiam opinion. "However, although our Supreme Court concluded that the Marriage Amendment precluded recognition of domestic partnerships for purposes of providing health-care benefits, our Supreme Court did not resolve that health-care benefits are a specific benefit of marriage or that the Marriage Amendment somehow precludes employers from offering health-care benefits to people other than spouses of employees." The policy in Attorney General allows for any "Other Eligible Adult Individual," which would allow for heterosexual unmarried couples to benefit as well, as long as the non-employee is over 18, not a member of the immediate family, and has jointly shared and continues to share the same permanent resident for at least one continuous year. It doesn't apply to tenants, boarders, renters or employees. "This policy is unambiguously completely gender-neutral," the majority wrote. "Furthermore, while it does not allow married employees to share their benefits with anyone other than spouses and does not allow employees to share their benefits with close blood relations, it does not depend on the employee being in a close relationship of any particular kind with the OEAI beyond a common residence." While the Marriage Amendment, however, prohibits the recognition of civil unions as marriage, it doesn't "prohibit incidentially benefiting such agreements." The majority consisted of Judges Amy Ronayne Krause and Stephen Borrello. Judge Michael Riordan dissented, arguing that the OEAI provision "is arbitrary and wholly unrelated in a rational way to [its] objective." He said the lower court didn't provide any record to show the provision is supported by a rational basis, which, he said, there isn't one to be found. "While honoring the collective bargaining process certainly is important, it cannot be done in violation of the constitution," he wrote. "The OEAI provision endorses an arbitrary distinction between classes of people based on familial relations, with no rational basis and no factual basis for such a distinction. Thus, it is a status-based enactment divorced from any factual context from which could be discerned a relationship to legitimate state interests." Published: Thu, Jan 17, 2013

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