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September 25, 2003 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2003-09-25

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8A- The Michigan Daily - Thursday, September 25, 2003
Lawsuit challenges same-sex benefits policy of schools

al

Fine line between marriage
act and benefits policy to be
delineated by the courts
By Adhiraj Dutt
Daily Staff Reporter
A lawsuit filed against the Ann Arbor
Public Schools over its same-sex benefits
policy Monday may result in a similar law-
suit against the University, which has a
benefits policy.
Passed in 1996, Michigan's Defense of
Marriage Act characterizes a marriage as
"inherently a unique relationship between a
man and a women," and effectively pro-
hibits same-sex marriages.
The Thomas More Law Center, a Christ-
ian-based advocacy group, filed the law-
suit, alleging that the district's policy of
providing insurance benefits to employees

is in breach of the Marriage Act.
"This policy institutionalizes marriages,"
said Brian Burch, director of communica-
tions at the center.
Only married partners are supposed to
receive benefits, Burch added.
The group argues that unmarried hetero-
sexual partners do not receive any insur-
ance benefits, yet policies similar to the
district's policy allow for unmarried same-
sex partners to receive benefits.
Most people are unaware of the lawsuit
and the legal issues it raises.
"I haven't heard a lot of people talk about
it," said E. Frederic MacDonald-Dennis,
director of the University's Office of Les-
bian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender
Affairs.
"Some of my colleagues think it's
absolutely immoral and insulting."
"Nothing surprises me about these people
who don't believe in civil rights for anyone

but themselves," he added.
The lawsuit against the school district,
filed on behalf of 17 taxpayers, is the first
such suit filed by the Thomas More Center.
The center is reviewing institutions
across the country that have similar policies
which could be named in future lawsuits.
"We haven't made a formal decision
about a lawsuit against the University,"
Burch said.
"A lot of it depends on the availability of
our resources."
"We are taking cases where the cases are
set up in a way that will allow us to win,"
he added.
But the University is not anticipating any
lawsuits over its same-sex benefits policy.
"We conducted a careful study and set up
a task force to look into the policy in '95,"
University spokeswoman Julie Peterson
said.
"We are very comfortable with our

"Nothing surprises me about these people who don't
believe in civil rights for anyone but themselves:'
- E. Frederick MackDonald-Dennis
Director, Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs

I

polic,." she added.
Of the University's 27,107 employees,
160 have signed up to receive benefits for
their same-sex partners.
"It's such a small number, it's ridiculous.
It shows how petty (the plaintiffs) are,"
MacDonald-Dennis said.
But according to Burch, the number of
people affected is not critical to the lawsuit.
"At what point would it be enough to
cause concern?"It's better to stop the policy
while we have few people being affected by
it." Burch said.
"Fifty, 100 - would it make a differ-
ence? We are after the policy," he added.

"The court will decide that question,
whether the Defense of Marriage Act
applies."
But MacDonald-Dennis said that the
Defense of Marriage Act concerns marital
status. "That law is not about same-sex
benefits," he added.

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KELLY LIN/Daily
Gary Beckman, professor of Hittite and Mesopotamian Studies, delivers a lecture on Middle East
peoples in Angell Hall yesterday.

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