Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
DETROIT – The Michigan ACLU announced Wednesday, they have filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Rick Snyder to strike down a new state law that bans many public entities from providing health insurance to same-sex domestic partners.
“This is the most shameful and cruel law that Michigan has seen in a long time,” said Michael J. Steinberg, Michigan ACLU Legal Director about the Public Employee Domestic Partner Benefit Restriction Act, signed by Gov. Snyder on Dec 22, 2011. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of school teachers, city and county workers and their domestic partners who will lose their health insurance as a result of the law.
“We cannot stand idly by while politicians undermine the value of equality and fairness that make this state great. This law creates a hostile environment for many of our residents to work and live. We, working with our clients and people of good will in this state, will do our very best to restore some measure of common decency and equality to this state,” said Steinberg.
The lawsuit, Bassett et al. v Snyder, was filed on behalf of four same-sex couples who will face real hardship trying to find affordable and comprehensive health care plans given their current health conditions such as high blood pressure, breast cancer, glaucoma and rheumatoid arthritis.
Under the terms of the act, which took immediate effect as early as Jan. 2, many of Michigan’s gay and lesbian public employees have already been stripped or will soon be stripped of family health care coverage for their domestic partners.
“This law serves no purpose other than to single out a small minority of people and to deprive them of critical protections that are available to all other family members. This law is wrong, it’s discriminatory, and it’s unconstitutional,” said Jay Kaplan, Michigan ACLU LGBT Project Staff Attorney. “We believe that the act violates their equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment as well as interferes with their fundamental rights and protected liberty interests.”
Although the application of the law needs clarification, Steinberg weighed in stating that universities are exempt because they are an autonomous entity under the Michigan constitution. The Michigan Civil Service Commission determines compensation and the benefits for state employees. “This does not save the state any money on benefits for its own employees. It only prohibits school districts and municipalities from voluntarily providing benefits because they believe it’s in the best interest of the school district and the municipality,” said Steinberg.
But, Kaplan said, unlike heterosexual employees with domestic partners who can marry in order to continue their eligibility under the law, Michigan does not permit, nor recognize the marriage of same-sex couples. Government employers remain free to offer health insurance benefits to all other family members, such as parents, siblings, uncles and cousins.
“It is clear from the statements made by the sponsors of this law that it was motivated by discriminatory animus toward gay and lesbian people. Sponsors of this bill clearly mischaracterized the current state of Michigan law regarding providing health insurance coverage for same-sex domestic partners and offered irresponsible and wildly inaccurate statements regarding cost savings. Proponents of the law ignore the fact that public employees pay income taxes on the health insurance premiums for same-sex partners and often contribute to a percentage of the premiums out of their own paychecks,” said Kaplan.
Cost is a major concern for Doak Bloss and his partner Gerardo Ascheri of East Lansing as they will pay an additional $8,000 to $10,000 per year for individual health insurance coverage.
“Even though the financial implications are important, what really hurts is the message…that this is not a place where you are welcome simply because of who you are. We want to stay here, but simply won’t be able to for emotional and financial reasons if this law isn’t overturned,” said Bloss, an Ingham County employee.
Ascheri said it is “shocking” to feel second-class again as he left his oppressive life behind in Argentina and became a U.S. citizen on June 15, 2010. “This law is appalling. It is beyond belief. It goes against all principles and ideals this country is founded on and I am very grateful for the ACLU and that they are challenging it,” said Ascheri, a self-employed piano teacher.
With his nine-year-old daughter Aliza at his side, Ann Arbor school teacher Peter Ways explained what a hard lessen this has been for him and his partner of 20 years, Joe Breakey, a self-employed licensed therapist.
“Our family is under attack. It is clear to me that it is time for us to fight back. I thank the ACLU for putting forward their legal challenge. I thank the many supporters who have voiced their support. I have no personal desire for publicity, neither does Joe. It is only upon long reflection and consultation with family and friends that Joe and I have honored Aliza’s request to be here and to make her voice heard.
If by raising our voices we can help our political leaders to make better decisions then we are here to be counted,” said Ways.