By Tara Cavanaugh
In a 3-1 vote, the Michigan Civil Service Comission decided Jan. 26 to offer health care benefits to the domestic partners of state employees.
But the language doesn’t exactly say “domestic partners.” Instead, it offers one “other eligible adult” — who has lived with the state employee for at least a year, will continue living with that employee, and is not a tenant or hire — access to state health benefits. The OEA’s dependents may also access those benefits, said Matt Fedorchuk from the MCSC.
State employees negotiated domestic partner benefits in 2004. But that same year, Michigan voted to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. That vote caused the Michigan Supreme Court to decide in 2008 that domestic partner benefits should not be allowed.
The court made clear in its ruling that language that offered benefits to “domestic partners” sounded too much like marriage, said Denise-Brogan Kator, a lawyer and executive director of Equality Michigan. But the court also made clear that its ruling does not prohibit employers from offering coverage to another unrelated person — that person just couldn’t be called a “domestic partner,” she said.
After that ruling, some state universities promptly changed their language to keep offering domestic partner benefits, Brogan-Kator said, and the MCSC change is similar.
Fedorchuk said the the change will go into effect in October. Now, Snyder has to accomodate the costs in his budget proposal to the state legislature in February. Fedorchuk did not have any estimates for the cost of the extended health coverage, but the Detroit News reported Jan. 27 that it could cost as much as $ 5.7 million, an additional cost which “dissappointed and frustrated” Snyder. Michigan faces an estimated $1.8 billion budget deficit.
The state House and Senate may vote to change or get rid of the language that will allow the OEA benefits, but each would have to do so by a two-thirds majority, Fedorchuk said.
The extended benefits are not just a victory for the LGBT community, Brogan-Kator said, “but also for the people of Michigan … for the people that now can protect their families and protect their children.”
She understands the state is suffering from lack of revenue, but “it is always the right time to invest in your employees and to send a message to the rest of the country that Michigan is an affirming, inclusive state.”