LANSING (AP) — Benefits for gay state employees would be
extended to their domestic partners in proposed contracts with five
unions, but could be denied under a newly approved constitutional
amendment banning gay marriage.

Nearly 38,000 state employees are holding ratification votes on
tentative contracts reached a week before the Nov. 2 election.
Voters that day approved Proposal 2, which adds language to the
Michigan Constitution defining marriage as the union of one man and
one woman.

If the contracts are approved, the state would provide same-sex
domestic partner benefits as of Oct. 1, 2005. But David Fink,
director of the Office of the State Employer, said, “We are
concerned that this benefit negotiated in response to union demands
could violate the new constitutional amendment.” Fink
negotiated the new contracts on behalf of the state.

The amendment doesn’t specifically address domestic
partnership benefits. But Fink said he expected the courts to
determine before Oct. 1 how they would be affected by Proposal
2.

“The language of the amendment was so vague we are afraid
it threatens those benefits, but we don’t really know for
sure,” said Chris Swope, executive director of Michigan
Equality.

“You could argue either way whether domestic partner
benefits are similar to marriage or not,” he said.

The amendment won’t abolish existing domestic partner
benefits negotiated by public employers, but will deny new ones
once it takes effect, said Gary Glenn, president of the American
Family Association of Michigan and a leader in the Proposal 2
campaign.

“It is our opinion the state can offer benefits to any
employee or dependent it wishes to, but it cannot do so on the
basis of recognizing a homosexual relationship as equal or similar
to marriage,” he said.

In metropolitan Detroit alone, about 55 private companies,
government agencies and nonprofits offer same-sex benefits, up from
just a handful in 1997, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a
Washington-based gay advocacy group.

Some companies go beyond basic health care benefits by offering
dental, life insurance, bereavement leave and other benefits to its
gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees and their
families.

“We believe the state must use all the best tools
available to attract and keep excellent employees, just as other
major employers must,” Fink said.

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