Michigan Supreme Court hears appeal of whether gay couples get health benefits

The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of a ruling that blocks public universities and state and local governments from providing health insurance benefits to the partners of gay workers.

The high court released an order Thursday granting a motion for appeal filed by 21 gay couples represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. The court denied their request to stay, or halt, the state Court of Appeals' decision.

The appeals court gave its ruling immediate effect, though many 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 cited Michigan's 2004 voter-approved constitutional amendment against gay marriage which makes the union between a man and woman the only agreement recognized as a marriage "or similar union for any purpose" as also barring domestic partner benefits for the same-sex partners of public employees.

Sixteen of the plaintiffs work for employers who offer same-sex benefits the city of 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 provide same-sex benefits but delayed them until courts ruled on their legality.

The appeals court ruling reversed a 2005 decision by an Ingham County judge who allowed public employers to provide the benefits.