Although Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder identifies as a Republican, he’s painted himself as a moderate who is more interested in job creation than divisive social issues.
But Snyder, who is running for reelection this year against Democrat Mark Schauer, is the defendant in a motion filed Friday asking the judge to side with the state in a lawsuit filed by five same-sex couples who argue their equal protection and due process rights are violated by a ban on domestic partner benefits. The governor signed the ban in 2011 for state employees excluding those employed by public universities. The law, Public Act 297, also prohibits Michigan cities, counties and other employers from offering their employees same-sex domestic partner benefits.
After the ban became law, the five couples filed suit against Snyder and the state. Judge David Lawson, who is presiding over the lawsuit, struck down the ban as being unconstitutional in a preliminary injunction last June.
The motion says PA 297 “is a logical and cohesive part of the effort to reduce costs and to address the fiscal insecurity of local governments that has increased exponentially over the past five years.” Authored by State Attorney General Bill Schuette, the motion argues that the ban on domestic partner benefits doesn’t just single out same-sex couples, but also precludes the state employee from sharing their benefits with an adult child, fraternal sibling or other anomalies that could arise if domestic partner benefits were dispensed.
“I would say that Public Act 297 of 2011 was about ensuring fiscal responsibility and stewardship as domestic partner benefit policies (regardless of sexual orientation; that was not the factor) can be written without real parameters and Michigan has to address the spiraling costs of health care for the benefit of our state’s taxpayers and all Michiganders,” Sara Wurfel, Snyder’s press secretary, told The Huffington Post in an email.
Supporters of the ban said in 2011 it would save the state $8 million annually.
Michigan passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage in 2004. That ban is being challenged in another lawsuit, for which arguments will be heard beginning next week by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman. Two female nurses, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, say that the state government’s belief that marriage exists only between a man and a woman violates their right to marry and adopt each other’s children. If the Michigan ban on gay marriage is declared unconstitutional, the decision on whether to provide employee benefits to same-sex couples will become moot as those couples will be able to marry and receive benefits under the current law.
Although the motion supports continuing the ban on domestic partner benefits, the governor and attorney general argue the law wasn’t enacted out of animus or ill-will toward same-sex couples:
“Similarly, it need hardly be said that individuals may hold deep-seated personal views completely inapposite of the other, and yet bear no animosity, no hatred towards each other,” the motion reads. “Here, to the extent several legislators expressed views supporting traditional marriage, such expressions are not per se discriminatory or hostile.”