By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
LANSING – On Oct. 6, the Michigan State Senate passed two resolutions designed to make sure lesbians and gays know that, in the eyes of the state’s leaders, their families do not deserve basic employment benefits like health insurance.
Even though the Senate has no power over the courts, Michigan Senators took the time to pass Sen. Alan Cropsey’s (R-DeWitt) resolutions calling on the state Supreme Court to strike down domestic partnership benefits for the same-sex headed families of state and municipal employees. One of those resolutions, Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 33, is headed for the Michigan House.
As reported by BTL Sept. 29, late last month Ingham County Circuit Judge Joyce Draganchuk ruled that Proposal 2, the anti-gay marriage amendment passed by voters in November 2004, does not prohibit state and local governments from offering domestic partner benefits. Last spring Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox issued an opinion that domestic partner benefits for state employees are illegal under the state’s newly amended constitution.
Both Senate resolutions call on the Supreme Court, “to take whatever steps are necessary to maintain the status quo, with regard to same-sex benefits, that was in place prior to the September 25, 2005, 30th Circuit Court ruling in order to prevent the spending of taxpayer monies to fund benefits for homosexual unions until the court has reached a final adjudication…”
The resolutions passed by a vote of 22-16 along mostly party lines. As of press time, no information was available as to which committee will be chosen by House Speaker Craig DeRoche (R-Novi) to review it. An aid for Representative Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor) said that, according to the Speaker’s office, there are no plans to bring the resolution directly to the House floor.
Sen. Jacobs speaks out
One state Senator spoke out strongly against the resolutions.
Senator Gilda Jacobs (D-Huntington Woods) told her colleagues during remarks on the Senate floor, “Interestingly enough, if we look at the very language that was used in the literature to educate – and I use that term loosely – the voters about the merits of Proposal 2, and I quote, ‘Proposal 2 is only about marriage. Marriage is a union between husband and wife. Proposal 2 will keep it that way. This is not about rights or benefits or how people choose to live their lives.'” Jacobs called homophobia “the last bastion of popular discrimination, sometimes justified by religious scripture that exploits the worst aspects of human nature in order to sometimes feed a political agenda.”
“Is the principle of separation of powers in this state inspired by our Founding Fathers less important than this issue?” she asked her colleagues.
“I’m disheartened and dismayed by today’s vote,” Jacobs told BTL Oct. 6. “I think the legislature needs to be taking care of more pressing issues in the state of Michigan, and that we should not be dictating to the courts what they should or should not be dealing with.”
Jacobs did sound a bright note, however. “I think that the fact that we could have a debate about this, like we had today, is a big step forward,” she said. “These types of discussions, ten years ago, would never have happened at all.” During her Senate remarks Jacobs said, “Today, we take a step backward, but … we have come a long way in ten years.”
Cox seeks stay
That “step backward” will be a permanent one if the Attorney General has his way. Michigan Public Radio reported on Oct. 7 that Cox will be in court on Oct. 12 asking Judge Draganchuk to issue a stay of her decision pending his appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Governor to go forward with benefits
Despite the discriminatory tone prevalent in much of the rest of Michigan’s government, Governor Jennifer Granholm’s office is going forward with plans to institute domestic partner benefits for state employees with same-sex partners. Michigan Public Radio reported on Oct. 3 that the Governor’s office will go to the state Civil Service Commission later this month to seek approval for the benefits, which were negotiated with the state’s labor unions.
The report quoted State Employer David Fink as saying, “We have a court which has ruled quite clearly that the domestic partner benefits that we negotiated with the state employee unions is lawful, and in that context we see no reason to second guess the trial court.”
During the report the Chair of the Commission, Susan Munsell, expressed concern about the possible impact on LGBT citizens should the Commission grant the benefits before a Supreme Court ruling.
“If we implement those benefits, and same-sex partners come off the coverage they have now, and then a higher court overturns it, they may be in a position where they can’t get on their former coverage – and so it’s very disruptive to those people’s lives,” Munsell told Michigan Public Radio.
Contact your state Representative and tell her or him to vote no on Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 33, which calls on the state Supreme Court to stop domestic partner benefits for LGBT-headed families of state employees. For contact information for your Representative call the Michigan State House Clerk’s office at 517-373-0135 or visit http://house.michigan.gov/find_a_rep.asp.
How they voted
The following Michigan state Senators voted in favor of the resolutions urging the state Supreme Court to stop benefits for LGBT-headed families:
Jason Allen (R-District 37)
Jim Barcia (D-District 31)
Patricia L. Birkholz (R-District 24)
Michael Bishop (R-District 12)
Cameron Brown (R-District 16)
Nancy Cassis (R-District 15)
Alan L. Cropsey (R-District 33)
Valde Garcia (R-District 22)
Thomas M. George (R-District 20)
Judson Gilbert II (R-District 25)
Mike Goschka (R-District 32)
Bill Hardiman (R-District 29)
Ron Jelinek (R-District 21)
Wayne Kuipers (R-District 30)
Michelle McManus (R-District 35)
Dennis Olshove (D-District 9)
Bruce Patterson (R-District 7)
Alan Sanborn (R-District 11)
Kenneth K. Sikkema (R-District 28)
Tony Stamas (R-District 36)
Laura M. Toy (R-District 6)
Gerald VanWoerkom (R-District 34)
The following Michigan state Senators voted against the resolutions:
Raymond E. Basham (D-District 8)
Virg Bernero (D-District 23)
Liz Brater (D-District 18)
Deborah Cherry (D-District 26)
Irma Clark-Coleman (D-District 3)
Hansen Clarke (D-District 1)
Robert L. Emerson (D-District 27)
Beverly S. Hammerstrom (R-District 17)
Gilda Z. Jacobs (D-District 14)
Shirley Johnson (R-District 13)
Burton Leland (D-District 5)
Michael Prusi (D-District 38)
Mark Schauer (D-District 19)
Martha G. Scott (D-District 2)
Michael Switalski (D-District 10)
Samuel Buzz Thomas, III (D-District 4)