By Denise Brogan-Kator
For many of my 30 years in business, I was one of those “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” type Republicans. Although my politics have changed, I still believe that government has a role in the economy: to create an environment where businesses have the best chance to start, to grow, and to thrive, providing good jobs and stable communities. As a result, I can understand why Michigan voters – believing the Republican message focused on improving our business climate – elected a Republican governor and a majority of Republicans to the Michigan House of Representatives last November, switching over 20 seats that were previously held by Democrats.
What this power shift in Lansing will do to create Michigan jobs remains to be seen. But what we do know is that it has unleashed a vicious social agenda attacking Michigan’s LGBT citizens, as we saw when the legislature voted earlier this year to penalize state universities that offer domestic partner health care benefits to employees. We saw it again last week when the House voted along party lines to ban these benefits for all public employees.
Rep. Dave Agema, a Republican from Grandville, was the primary sponsor of the bill. Although he tries to pretend that denying health insurance to domestic partners and their children is about cost savings (the net cost savings, if any, is measured in the hundredths of a percentage point of our state budget), Rep. Agema is well known for his anti-gay rants. Unfortunately, he is not alone. Rep. Tom McMillan, a Republican from Rochester Hills, has become another outspoken leader of the anti-gay mob in Lansing and a supporter of this bill. And let’s not forget co-sponsor Rep. Thomas Hooker of Byron Center, whose transphobia was on display for all to see when he proposed a bill banning gender reassignment surgery for Michigan prisoners without knowing anything about the subject. (He told me, to my face, that he proposed that bill in order to save Michigan money – while we’ve never spent a dollar on such medical procedures).
These men and other Lansing cronies of Gary Glenn (who the Detroit Free Press called “a handful of myopic zealots”) want to do whatever they can to undermine our rights and to divide us. Unfortunately, because the Republican legislators who hold the majority of both chambers either share their views or can’t think for themselves, they are able to hurt us, hurt our families, and by doing that, hurt our state.
These people do not represent the people of Michigan. The majority of our citizens want all people to be treated fairly, with respect and dignity. They especially want equality in the workplace. This is not just my belief. Polls show that a substantial majority of Michiganders believe in fairness – that employees should be protected against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, just like they are protected against discrimination based on other things that don’t relate to job performance, such as race, sex, age, disability and religion.
Preventing public employers from offering workers with domestic partners the same health insurance they offer to (heterosexual) married workers is mandating discrimination in the workplace, pure and simple. It’s unprecedented, it’s wrong and it’s stupid. Just like Michigan’s other laws that deny LGBT people full access to the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, this unconstitutional and unfair bill drives away qualified employees who would otherwise contribute to rebuilding Michigan’s economy. It makes us a state with a “not welcome” sign at our borders, keeping away talented people and fair-minded businesses. Our governor, for all his faults, recognizes that to have a strong Michigan, we need an inclusive Michigan. We call on him to show leadership and to veto this bill, should it reach his desk. The rest of the Republicans in Lansing just don’t get it.
We must work together to take Lansing back. For us, for our families and for the future of our state.