- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2011

LANSING, Mich. The American Civil Liberties Union says it will mount a legal challenge against the state of Michigan after Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law Thursday a bill banning domestic-partner benefits for unmarried employees at state agencies.

Mr. Snyder signed off on House Bill 4770 amid objections from officials at Michigan’s public colleges and universities who said not being able to provide such benefits would limit their ability to recruit competitively on a national level.

While Mr. Snyder had said he would only sign the legislation if it didn’t affect state universities - he asserted in a letter that they are exempt under the Michigan Constitution - some Republican lawmakers contend that it does.

“I am gratified that the Legislature removed the definition of public employer from the bill, which included institutions of higher education, in favor of a definition of public employees that makes no specific reference to university employees,” Mr. Snyder wrote in a letter after signing the legislation.

“The constitutional autonomy of universities has been reviewed many times by the courts since the adoption of the 1963 Michigan Constitution,” he concluded.

In a statement that vowed to challenge the law’s constitutionality, the ACLU attacked the governor’s timing.

“The decision to take health care benefits away from families just in time for the holidays is mean-spirited and cruel,” ACLU Executive Director Kary Moss said in the statement.

“We are so disappointed in the governor,” Ms. Moss told AnnArbor.com. “This was the moment for him to show real leadership, to rise above what I believe is petty politics, to tell the rest of the country that Michigan is not living in the dark ages and to create an open and inclusive Michigan.”

The governor’s approval of the ban was praised by the conservative American Family Association, which called on the state attorney general to review the newly passed measure to determine its constitutionality.

The group said the bill would likely end up before the state’s Supreme Court. While it goes into effect immediately, it won’t affect unionized state employees until their current contracts expire.

Opponents of the law say it unfairly singles out homosexual public employees, although medical and other fringe benefits in the past have extended to unmarried partners of university workers, whether gay or straight.

The bill was passed by the Republican-led Michigan House of Representatives in September, and the Senate approved the measure this month.

• Andrea Billups can be reached at andreabillups@hotmail.com.

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