The Michigan Supreme Court currently is weighing whether a constitutional amendment barring gay marriages also prohibits public agencies and schools from offering health care benefits to the same-sex partners of employees.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the state’s high court heard arguments from both sides on Tuesday, with lawyers representing Attorney General Mike Cox saying such benefits are unconstitutional because they mirror benefits available only to married couples.

Lawyers representing 21 gay couples and Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm say voters wanted to protect the institution of marriage, not limit employee benefits.

The amendment, which passed 59 percent to 41 percent in 2004, defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman and prohibits government recognition of same-sex marriages “for any purpose.”

According to a recent survey conducted by the Associated Press, about 20 public employers in Michigan currently provide benefits to gay and lesbian couples under the same-sex relationship policies.

“We think the voters got one single message, which is: stop civil unions and nontraditional marriages from being recognised in Michigan,” Deborah Labelle of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan told the Associated Press. “It’s not about benefits.”

Assistant Attorney General Eric Restuccia, on the other hand, told AP that same-sex benefits policies are based on “similar attributes to marriage. They’ve essentially recreated the statutory definition of marriage.”

A ruling from the court is expected sometime early next year.

Bryan Ochalla © 2007 GayWired.com; All Rights Reserved.