In an eerie instance of deja vu, another controversial Proposal 2 has come back to haunt the University. The Proposal 2 passed in 2004 – now state law – defined marriage as between a man and woman and was later interpreted to also ban health care benefits for same-sex couples by Republican Attorney General Mike Cox.
On Thursday, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld Cox’s interpretation, which prohibited public institutions like the University from offering health care to same-sex partners of employees. This ruling not only places unwarranted restrictions on the rights of same-sex couples but also exposes the danger of vaguely worded proposals and could spell disaster for the state.
While the amendment was already a violation of same-sex couples’ rights, these further constraints serve only to compound the discrimination against same-sex couples – something Michigan residents never voted for. A 2005 EPIC/MRA poll showed that 47 percent of voters supported same-sex benefits, while only 39 percent opposed them.
Far from a mandate of voters, the ban on same-sex partners receiving health benefits was instead an arbitrary extrapolation by Cox. He construed the proposal’s vague language into a disgraceful manipulation of the public’s will to further a personal ideological agenda and deny people equal protection under the law – not to mention, potentially lifesaving, non-emergency medical care.
Cox’s interpretation is even more far-fetched considering that the private sector concluded long ago that debating same-sex benefits is no longer relevant. Companies across the country, including the Big Three, Disney and Microsoft, already grant same-sex health benefits. The same is true of private colleges that vie for the same top-notch professors as the University.
With health benefits in jeopardy, many professors may be tempted to leave the University, and others may be deterred from accepting appointments in the first place. Engineering Prof. Michael Falk, for example, came to the University in part because it provided same-sex health benefits. With such benefits taken away, not only will the University lose some valuable professors, but the general flight of intellectuals out of the state will also be exacerbated.
So far from the cutting edge of social activism, what progressive intellectual wants to live in a state that would take away equal protection? How can the state improve its workforce in areas like life sciences and biomedical engineering when its laws are needlessly unwelcoming and inevitably drive away talented progressive workers?
Cox’s push to exclude same-sex partners from receiving health benefits is not only an injustice to their rights and a disservice to the state – it is also a reminder of the dangers of Michigan’s popular, controversial ballot initiatives. Ballot proposals continuously pose a threat to the state by allowing groups to get controversial issues on the ballot – issues that are complex enough to only be worth considering for law after thorough legislative debate. Opportunistic individuals in state government use this vague language to twist these proposals to suit personal agendas, leading to a wide array of unintended and harmful consequences. The old Proposal 2 is only a sign of what’s to come.