The Republican-led Michigan House is again attempting to ban domestic partner benefits. The House passed two bills last week, both of which seek to prohibit public employees from extending their benefits to live-in companions including unmarried partners and roommates. These bills further demonstrate Michigan Republicans’ disregard of domestic partnerships, and the state Senate should not pass them.
Though the legislation labels unmarried heterosexual partners of state employees as individuals who may not receive benefits, the spirit of the law specifically targets same-sex couples. The proposed bills would make it impossible for same-sex partners of public employees to receive benefits, since gay marriage was banned in Michigan in 2004. If the legislation passes in the Senate, unmarried heterosexual couples have recourse to obtain state employee benefits. Same-sex couples — as legislators well know — will not have that option.
After a series of recent, high-profile legislation recognizing the rights of homosexual men and women — notably the state of New York — it’s unfortunate that the Michigan Legislature continues its efforts to constrain what many consider to be basic, equal rights. However, that is exactly what the House did this week in passing the pair of bills. The state Legislature doesn’t have the authority to define morality and individual behaviors of consenting adults. The passage of the legislation by the state Senate would limit access to benefits for people in domestic partnerships.
This vote makes Michigan a particularly unfriendly place for the gay community. If this bill does pass, Michigan could drive homosexuals and the greater LGBTQ community out of the state. Analysts predict that the ban could save the state about $8 million in the upcoming year, but they neglect to examine what could potentially be lost if lawmakers push the LGBTQ community out of Michigan. If the legislation truly stems from economic considerations, then the Legislature would be cutting partner benefits across the board, instead of isolating a specific group. Since only domestic partnerships are being targeted, the legislation is clearly based on social considerations.
Though the proposal extends to universities, schools and local governments, Democrats say public universities have the constitutional power to establish their own rules regarding partner benefits. The University should assert its autonomy and allow for domestic companions to collect benefits regardless of the Senate vote outcome. This cannot be a subject of collective bargaining — the University should defy the tentative ban and maintain its commitment to diversity and equality.
The Michigan Civil Service Commission also has the authority to decide on the types of benefits given to state employees. A vote already took place earlier this year to allow domestic partner benefits for certain state employees beginning in October. The University should follow the group’s precedent and offer the same benefits for live-in companions.
As citizens of an open democracy, we shouldn’t be trying to restrict the practices of individuals. The House should spend its time working on bills pertaining to jobs and the economy, rather than individual lifestyles. Michigan can’t afford to become an unfriendly state to any community and should strive to be a welcoming place. Senators should ensure that this bill is thrown out when it reaches their floor.