As of Oct. 1, our state is set to begin offering health benefits for live-in partners of state employees. Since the benefits were announced in January, state Republicans have tried nearly every gimmick possible to get rid of the benefits, and it looks like they just might succeed.
Their first argument is that the benefits will cost the state more money at a time when our state’s economy is unstable. That might be a good argument, if it weren’t for the math. Republicans first estimated that the benefits would cost the state up to $20 million. Then they settled on $8 million. Equality Michigan offered the estimate of $6 million. And then last week, the statewide commission that would give out the benefits gave an estimate of just $600,000. When compared to the state’s $43 billion budget, $600,000 is not much.
So cost is not a solid argument for the GOP. Next they argue that the benefits are too easy to get, that just about anybody can opt into them. This is not true. The benefits are designated for an “Other Eligible Adult.” That OEA must have lived with the state employee for more than one year, show intermingled finances, not be related and not be a tenant.
The GOP also argues that the commission that negotiated these benefits with state employees doesn’t have the authority to do so. Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette has even sued the commission for this reason. But back in 2008, when the Michigan Supreme Court prohibited domestic partner benefits, it said that public institutions could offer benefits to other unrelated individuals – those individuals just couldn’t be called “domestic partners.” Thus the OEA and “plus-one” benefits now offered at many state universities were born.
When logic fails to produce any worthwhile legal or financial argument against the benefits, the GOP goes for the social argument. That’s the stuff that’s easier for them to argue. Now Republicans say that when Michigan voters decided in 2004 to put an anti-gay-marriage amendment into our state Constitution, they also voted against partner benefits. Never mind that Republicans claimed the amendment would have no effect on such benefits back in 2004.
After a long nine months of fighting unsuccessfully against the benefits, the Republicans now look like they’re going to win. They have passed bills in the state House that would prohibit the benefits. The bills now need to pass the Senate. With a Republican-controlled Senate and a Republican governor, it seems that the fate is all but sealed.
Killing these benefits means our state will become even less welcoming than it already is. Our state already doesn’t protect LGBT students from bullying, doesn’t protect LGBT adults from discrimination in employment and housing, and doesn’t allow same-sex couples to be recognized parents. Killing these benefits also means that taxpayers will fund a long legal battle, as public institutions will likely fight for their rights to offer the benefits.
Killing the benefits for partners is happening right now, and you can actually do something about it. You can contact your senator and tell him or her to not kill these benefits. You can contact Gov. Rick Snyder and tell him not to sign this discriminatory law if it shows up on his desk. You can help make sure that this community isn’t a silent minority. You can help make sure Michigan doesn’t go even more backward in its treatment of all of us.