In defense of employees with same-sex partners, University officials are fighting against potential state legislation that would eliminate domestic partner benefits.

University President Mary Sue Coleman and University Provost Philip Hanlon sent a letter to Michigan state senators on Nov. 8 that expresses their opposition to House Bills 4770 and 4771, which would prohibit the University and other public entities in the state from offering benefits to domestic partners. House Bill 4770 passed in the state House of Representatives on Sept. 15, but is currently latent pending a vote on House Bill 4771 in the Senate.

“There is no evidence (eliminating benefits) will reduce health care costs,” Coleman and Hanlon wrote.

If passed by the state Senate, same-sex partners of public employees would lose their health insurance and, according to Coleman and Hanlon, the bill would hinder the University’s ability to recruit talented faculty members. Coleman and Hanlon wrote in the letter addressed to state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R–Monroe) that if the University can’t offer benefits to domestic partners it would have a hiring disadvantage compared to institutions in other states.

“Fortune 500 companies nationwide and in the state of Michigan offer partner benefits: It is simply good business that produces an excellent return on investment,” Coleman and Hanlon wrote in the letter.

The University provided domestic partner benefits to 570 qualified adults and 48 dependent children this year. On average, the cost of the benefits is $3,072 per person and 0.7 percent of the University’s total budget, or $1.9 million out of $302 million, according to the letter.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D–East Lansing) is one of the 38 state Senators who received the letter. She said she is adamantly opposed to the efforts to scale back benefits for domestic partners because she also thinks it will have a “chilling effect” on the University’s ability to bring in the “best and the brightest” researchers.

“(The effort to eliminate benefits) sends a message that Michigan is intolerant and not interested in being a serious contender… for people that are doing the best things in their field,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer commended Coleman and Hanlon for doing “the right thing” by sending a letter voicing their concerns with the House bills.

Richardville could not be reached for comment after multiple inquiries.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the fact that Coleman and Hanlon wrote the letter demonstrates the significance of the issue to the University. He added that Coleman and Hanlon want the senators to know what the anticipated consequences would be if the bills pass both chambers.

“They both felt it was very important that the senators hear from the University of Michigan directly,” Fitzgerald said.

Already some if their domestic partner benefits are eliminated.

Whitmer said the bills are not justified and are instead an effort to distract the state from more important issues like unemployment, which was at 11.1 percent in Michigan as of Sept. 2011, according the the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“It’s like the bullying issue,” Whitmer said, referring to a bill passed in the state Senate on Nov. 2, which contains a clause offering what some legislators say is legal protection for bullies.

“When you focus on one small social issue, you endure all the evidence that shows it’s going to have much bigger ramifications to our detriment,” Whitmer said.

Kate Barald, chair of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, wrote in an e-mail interview that lead faculty body agrees with the content of Coleman and Hanlon’s letter and recently passed a unanimous resolution condemning the two bills. The University’s Senate Assembly passed a similar resolution with a vote of 49-1.

“This letter is essentially what both our SACUA resolution … and the Senate Assembly resolution (said),” Barald wrote. “We on SACUA, of course, endorse (the) letter, unanimously.”

Correction Appended:An earlier version of this story incorrectly described SACUA’s resolution concerning the two bills and incorrectly identified the number of senators the letter was sent to. The letter was sent to 38 senators.

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