U-M reputation could be damaged by benefits ban

ANN ARBOR- The University of Michigan is now right in the crosshairs of an online controversy over a potential ban that would prohibit public employers from providing certain health benefits to an unrelated adult or their child living with an employee.
"Dump Michigan. The state has gone anti-gay. There are lots of others sane states, and sane universities, you can attend in places that don't aspire to be the Deep South," wrote John Aravosis on his blog The author of this popular gay blog goes on to encourage faculty and students to not apply at the U-M.
The controversy stems from the passage of HB 4770 by the Michigan House of Representatives last month and which is now under consideration in the Senate. If passed, the bill would essentially invalidate all benefits, including healthcare benefits, to anyone other than a spouse by marriage and children within that marriage.
Same-sex couples are not permitted to marry in Michigan, and same-sex marriages performed outside the state are not recognized by the State of Michigan.
An article on Oct. 31 interviewed two same-sex couples in which one partner in each couple is a professor at the U-M. Both couples were clear that if the ban takes effect, they would leave.
"It's a total slap in the face. It tells me that I don't deserve the same consideration" as heterosexual couples, U-M Latin professor Sara Ahbel-Rappe told "People will leave."
The controversy presents a public relations and recruiting nightmare for U-M. The university issued a strong statement in opposition to the bill to ban benefits. "The option to cover eligible dependents is commonly offered by the public and private higher education and corporate sector institutions with which we compete for the nation's best talent. We believe access to these benefits is important for successful recruitment and retention, and to remain competitive for top-tier faculty and staff."
Jackie Simpson, director of the LGBT Spectrum Center at U-M, said it is important to differentiate between the state of Michigan and the University of Michigan.
"I believe the U-M is a good place to work," said Simpson. "If that bill passes there has been some discussion about the universities having constitutional autonomy. I would therefore assume that if it passes it would be challenged in court."
Simpson said that although she is fairly confident that the university's constitutional autonomy, guaranteed in the Michigan constitution, would eventually trump this legislation if passed, she recognizes that it sends an unhelpful message to potential employees and students.
"If at the end of the day the U- M is unable to offer benefits to unrelated partners, I think there will be a lot of people looking at employment at other places that offer these benefits. That's just reality," she said.

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