Kalamazoo Cancels Same-Sex Benefits

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The City of Kalamazoo no longer will offer health insurance benefits to the partners of gay workers, becoming Michigan's first public employer to take away existing benefits in the wake of a 2004 ban against gay marriage.

Kalamazoo City Manager Kenneth Collard confirmed Monday that the city will eliminate domestic partner benefits for four non-unionized employees effective June 30. He cited a May 23 order from the Michigan Supreme Court.

The high court agreed to hear an appeal of a state Court of Appeals decision blocking same-sex benefits, but it also let the earlier decision take immediate effect.

"We have no authority, as being a creation of the state, to ignore the (Michigan) constitution as defined," Collard told The Associated Press. The affected employees were informed last week and their partners have about a month to get other insurance, Collard said.

Also Monday, the Ann Arbor school district said it will not include domestic partner benefits in future union labor contracts. About 15 employees will not lose those benefits now, though they will end when existing contracts expire, The Ann Arbor News reported.

Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan, said public universities and state and local governments should follow Kalamazoo's lead and "honor the will of the voters."

Some public employers have said they will not take away domestic partner benefits until the case is decided once and for all.

The appeals court in February said Michigan's 2004 voter-approved constitutional amendment against gay marriage also bars domestic partner benefits for the same-sex partners of public employees.

Twenty-one gay couples represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing the public never intended to ban same-sex benefits. A message seeking comment was left with the ACLU Monday.

Sixteen of the plaintiffs work for employers who offer same-sex benefits -- Kalamazoo, various universities and a county health department covering the Lansing area. Another five plaintiffs are employed by the state, which in 2004 agreed to start providing same-sex benefits but delayed them until courts clear up their legality.

Kalamazoo has been at the center of the dispute over same-sex benefits in Michigan.

In March 2005, Republican Attorney General Mike Cox interpreted the city's domestic partner policy as violating the constitutional amendment, prompting a lawsuit by a Washington-based AFL-CIO group called National Pride at Work and others. Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm supports providing the benefits.

Up to 20 public universities, community colleges, school districts and local governments in Michigan have same-sex benefits policies. Universities, which employ most of those affected, argue that not being able to offer the benefits will hurt recruitment of faculty and staff.

At least 375 university and government employees in Michigan have partners who qualify for same-sex benefits.

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