On the heels of the Supreme Court decision striking down key parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, the ACLU scored a win Friday in the organization’s strategy to take the same-sex marriage battle to the states.
In a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, U.S. District Judge David Lawson issued a temporary restraining order ending Michigan’s ban on health benefits for same-sex married employees who work in public schools or for local governments.
The judge relied on the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision Wednesday to conclude that the Michigan state law violates the U.S. Constitution.
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Lawson ruled that the plaintiffs in the case – same-sex domestic partners working in state universities and various local governments who were forced to purchase more expensive private health insurance because they were denied access to state-provided plans – have a claim under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The injunction by the U.S. District Court in Michigan appears to go beyond U.S. v. Windsor in arguing a state law that denies state benefits to same-sex domestic partners violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, even in a state where same-sex marriage has been outlawed by the state constitution.
“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. But that can never be a legitimate governmental purpose,” Lawson said as he ordered an injunction, the Associated Press reported.
In granting the preliminary injunction, the judge found the Michigan law discriminated against same-sex domestic partners by forcing cities, counties, school districts and community colleges to cancel health insurance benefits for same-sex couples who are considered married under the Michigan state constitution.
The 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court in DOMA decision stopped short of declaring a federal constitutional right existed to protect same-sex marriage.
In a narrow ruling, the court in U.S. v. Windsor struck down provisions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that barred couples in a same-sex marriage legitimated by a state or foreign government from receiving federal benefits available to those in traditional heterosexual marriages.
The 2011 Michigan law, passed by a Republican-controlled state legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, curtailed insurance benefits for domestic partners working for certain public employees and local governments. Most employees of institutions of higher learning as well as state government were exempted from the restriction because their benefits were set by the Michigan Civil Service Commission.
In 2004, Michigan passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage only as a union between a man and a woman.
“The judge was absolutely correct in finding that the law was unconstitutional because it’s motivated by bigotry,” Michigan ACLU legal director Michael Steinberg told the Associated Press.
“This law served no purpose to the state of Michigan other than to needlessly discriminate against hard-working families,” said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. “It’s hard to encourage talented people and their families to work for public employers in Michigan when they’re denied the ability to take care of each other.”
The Michigan ACLU website argued the Michigan Law is “particularly irrational because it allowed municipalities to provide health insurance coverage for other family members – cousins, aunts, nephews – but excluded same-sex domestic partners.”
The victory in Michigan was also celebrated by the ACLU at the national level.
“The court rightly determined that this policy unconstitutionally discriminated against a minority of Michigan families,” said Amanda C. Goad, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “All hardworking state employees and their families should have the peace of mind of being able to look after each other.”
Anthony D. Romero, the first openly gay executive director of the ACLU, in an editorial published on the website of the national organization, proclaimed the victory in U.S. v. Windsor for ACLU client Edith Windsor was a personal victory for him.
He said “27 years ago, I decided to study law because I wanted to make a difference in the world.”
“And today, the American Civil Liberties Union – the organization that I have been privileged to lead since 2001 – made history by striking down the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act and winning justice for our client, Edith Windsor,” Romero wrote.
“Edie is one of my favorite clients of all time. She is smart, loving, energetic, passionate, tenacious, and courageous.”
Romero went on to proclaim the Supreme Court’s ruling was “the tipping point in the struggle for full equality for LGBT Americans.”
He also announced the ACLU has hired Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, vice chairman of public affairs at Edelman and the former senior adviser to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, “to spearhead our campaign to strike down state-based laws prohibiting same-sex marriage.”
Additionally, Romero announced, the ACLU has hired Jimmy LaSalvia, founder and former executive director of GOProud, “to help with outreach to gay conservatives, particularly within the Tea Party.”