An unpublished opinion (PDF) of the Court of Appeals released today upholds a circuit court decision rejecting Attorney General Bill Schuette's challenge to the Civil Service Commission's extension of health plan benefits to “other eligible adult individuals” who are "co-residents of state employees" -- in other words, to domestic partners. The Attorney General said that the extension, which was the product of negotiations with state employee unions, violates the state constitution's Marriage Amendment and equal protection. From the opinion, signed by Judges Amy Ronayne Krause and Stephen Borrello:
This policy is unambiguously completely gender-neutral. Furthermore, while it does not allow married employees to share their benefits with anyone other than spouses and does not allow employees to share their benefits with close blood relations, it does not depend on the employee being in a close relationship of any particular kind with the OEAI beyond a common residence. The Marriage Amendment prohibits recognizing certain kinds of agreements as “marriage[s] or similar union[s];” it does not in any way prohibit incidentally benefiting such agreements, particularly where it is clear that an employee here could share benefits with a wide variety of other people.
Judge Michael Riordan dissented. From the dissent (PDF):
There are no facts in the record to support the trial court’s conclusory holding that the “other eligible adult individuals”]provision is, or is not, supported by a rational basis. Despite the attorney general’s contention that the proffered reasons were illogical, the trial court performed no inquiry into whether they were supported by anything, even if debatable, in the record. Instead, the trial court simply adopted the proffered justifications as being factual.
Undoubtedly, a rational basis standard of review is highly deferential. However, that deference is not the equivalent of there being no standard of review at all. A court may not abdicate its duty to actually review the proffered justifications and any opposition to them. It must discern whether there is anything in the record to undermine or, in the alternative, support the justifications. From my review of the record, it cannot be said that the OEAI provision is directed at any identifiable purpose or discrete objective in relation to the proffered goal of attracting and retaining a qualified work force.