Michigan Governor Rick Snyder on Thursday signed a bill that bans public employers from providing benefits to the spouses of gay employees.

The bill prohibits public employers from extending benefits to the partners of unmarried public employees in a state where gay and lesbian couples cannot legally marry, gay weekly Pride Source reported. The legislation also impacts unmarried straight couples in a domestic partnership.

Several institutions of higher learning in the state, including the University of Michigan, had urged Snyder not to sign the bill.

An analysis by the House concluded that the legislation would not exclude universities, but a Senate analysis arrived at the opposite conclusion.

Snyder said in a statement that he believed universities would not be impacted by the legislation.

“In a signing letter to the legislature, Snyder reiterated the fact that higher education institutions would not be included in H.B. 4770 as the constitutional autonomy of universities has been reviewed and affirmed many times by the courts since the adoption of the 1963 Michigan Constitution. Members of classified state civil service are also not covered by the terms of H.B. 4770 as the constitution gives the Michigan Civil Service Commission responsibility for setting rates of compensation and regulating all conditions of employment in the classified service.”

Gay rights and progressive groups called Snyder's decision “cruel.”

“The decision to take health care benefits away from families just in time for the holidays is mean-spirited and cruel,” said Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the ACLU. “The bill serves no other purpose than to single out a small minority of people and deprive them of critical protections as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.”

Moss added that her group would challenge the law in court.

Snyder “has put hardworking gay and lesbian couples and their children in harm's way by eliminating important health care coverage,” said Emily Dievendorf, policy director for Equality Michigan, the state's largest gay rights advocate. “This law will only serve to hurt Michigan.”