The decision by the Michigan Civil Service Commission to authorize partner benefits for state employees is coming under fire by the American Family Association of Michigan.
Gary Glenn, the group’s leader, has asked Republican leaders Gov. Rick Snyder, House Speaker James Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville to ask Attorney General Bill Schuette to issue an opinion as to whether the MSCS decision violated the state’s prohibition on recognition of any relationship “similar” to marriage. Voters amended Michigan’s Constitution in 2004 to define marriage as between one man and one woman, and prohibited the recognition of any other relationship.
In 2008, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that domestic partner benefits provided for just same-sex couples by pubic employers were a violation of the “Marriage Protection Amendment.” In response, public employers developed a program to offer health care and other benefits to other eligible individuals. To qualify, the named individual and the employee must show intermingled finances as well as other standards.
Glenn has said those programs are legal in the past — as has former Republican Attorney General Mike Cox.
But now Glenn is backing off supporting those programs.
“As we made clear in public statements as far back as the ballot campaign for the amendment in 2004, we believe an unrestricted benefits policy that allows a state employee to cover anyone he chooses, including family members such as parents, siblings, or grandparents, probably would be constitutional since it obviously would not be based on treating the employee’s relationship as similar to a marriage,” Glenn said in a press release Thursday. “But that’s not what the Civil Service Commission did.”
There’s a big distinction between the question of constitutionality and whether such a plan is good public policy, Glenn said. AFA-Michigan would oppose such an unrestricted plan, even if constitutional, because it believes it would increase the tax burden on Michigan families even more than the Civil Service Commission’s plan.
Attorneys for the University of Michigan agreed in the Pride at Work case, arguing in court that because of the cost, the university should not be compelled to broadly offer benefits to any individual an employee chooses in order to be allowed to continue covering employees’ homosexual partners.
In his letter to the Republican leadership, Glenn says “when our state is already drowning in red ink, forcing taxpayers to fund new benefits for any new group of beneficiaries — especially one at severely elevated risk of substance abuse and expensive life-threatening diseases such as AIDS, cancer, and hepatitis — is all the more unthinkable and will further increase both the state budget deficit and the cost of health care for everyone.”
What Glenn fails to note is that many LGBT people who suffer the very ills he cites often end up on Medicaid rolls — meaning state taxpayers end up paying for the medical care.
“Equality Michigan recognizes that there are strong social, financial, and health benefits to relationship recognition. That assertion doesn’t serve as a defense of restricting health benefits to marriages between a man and a woman,” says Emily Dievendorf, policy director at Equality Michigan. “Once again, it shows that the legal recognition of domestic commitments, and the protections that come with it, provides the kind of stability to a household that elevates a community on every level – fostering progress for economic, social, and public health. Therefore, the families that will be strengthened by these benefits exemplify the case for not allowing our personal biases to get in the way of bringing Michigan forward.”
Attorney General Schuette has attempted to push legislation to prohibit domestic partner benefits in the past. As a state senator, Schuette pushed legislation that would prohibit public entities from approving such benefits. The bills came as public universities like Western Michigan University, Wayne State University and others passed benefits programs. His legislation failed.
Dievendorf issued the following statement in defense of the MCSC decision:
“The CSC recognized that when any member of a household lacks health benefits it creates vulnerability for the household that impacts the whole community and, in turn, the State of Michigan. The only thing more expensive to taxpayers than providing our neighbors, families and co-workers health benefits is NOT providing our neighbors, families and co-workers health benefits. Access to health care serves as prevention and ultimately saves taxpayers money.
The CSC did not extend a ‘same-sex benefit plan’ to state employees. In this particular situation, the progress made was not a victory specific to the LGBTQ community and addressed one factor that is currently disabling the families of state of Michigan employees across the board. Same-sex couples constitute a minority of those eligible to benefit from the decision. As our new Attorney General, Schuette is no longer in a position to allow his own ideology to direct his focus the way he could as a legislator.”
The state has estimated that this benefit will cost $6 million per year, or approximately .003 percent (three one-thousandths of a percent) of this year’s estimated deficit.