Michigan denies cohabitors spousal benefits

Michigan's Court of Appeals this week overturned a lower court decision that allowed same-sex partners of public employees to receive the equivalent of spousal benefits (PDF warning).

The crux of the biscuit, according to the court, is that the partnership agreements required by insurers are enough like a spousal contract to violate the marriage protection amendment.

Heterosexual partners were also denied benefits under amendment, but extending benefits to gay partners has always been at the heart of the court disputes, of which this week's ruling is the latest development. (Michigan State University, not a party to the current dispute, does offer domestic partner benefits and says it is weighing its options, so probably this week's ruling isn't the last word.)

The court, at the outset of the ruling, declined to become embroiled in arguments about how extension of domestic partner benefits might aid in hiring and retention efforts, or in lifestyle "choices," an interesting word.

Heterosexual cohabitors who want the benefits, of course, have a choice in Michigan: They can get married if they want the benefits. Not my idea of the most noble reason for getting married--it saves money--but it does make life better for the kids.

Homosexual cohabitors who would prefer to be married in the first place and not fiddle around with "partnership agreements," however, do NOT have a choice because their unions cannot be recognized under Michigan law.

All of which raises the question: Do amendments like Michigan's actually protect traditional marriages? The amendments are often hailed--rather mindlessly, in my opinion--as we the people taking a stand to support traditional marriage as an institution for social stability in the face of influences that might erode or warp it.

All well and good, I suppose, but the influences that truly threaten marriage, in my view, are quickie no-fault divorce laws, and the ease with which couples can be married--problems which the marriage protection amendments don't address.

So perhaps we have to consider that such amendments are simply thinly disguised weapons that can be wielded against the gay community, to deny them benefits, to subtly discourage them from entering certain hiring pools, to make their "lifestyle" more expensive and complicated, and generally continue to denigrate and marginalize them.

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