By Eric Rader
The military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy finally ended last week, thanks to the persistent hard work of many brave heroes. Though it was originally intended as a compromise aimed at allowing gay men and lesbians to serve in the military, DADT became a justification for witch hunts into the private lives of honorable women and men in the nation’s armed services. According to official statistics, more than 13,000 qualified service members were discharged from the military under the policy, including many with rare foreign language specialties at a time when the nation faced the dangers of worldwide terrorism. While many Americans initially supported DADT, the vast majority of citizens now believe in military equality for gays and lesbians. DADT was always a bad policy and no one should mourn its passing.
At the same time that lesbian and gay soldiers have gained the right to serve openly in the armed forces, some leaders in Michigan are trying to expand discrimination against LGBT citizens in our state. Last year, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm and her administration agreed to provide domestic partner benefits to state employees, including those with same-sex partners. In order to comply with Michigan’s 2004 anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment, the Michigan Civil Service Commission approved “plus-one” benefits, allowing state employees to add a single non-dependent member of their household to their employee benefit plan without regard to their marital status or gender, a policy that is similar to one that exists for employees at the University of Michigan. Though these agreements were bargained collectively between management and employee unions, Republicans in the legislature now want to impose their own will on these institutions and ban such benefits. The Michigan House recently passed legislation, sponsored by Rep. David Agema, R-Grandville, prohibiting any state of Michigan governmental entity or school from offering domestic partner benefits to unmarried public employees. Supporters of these bills make the insulting argument that the state cannot afford to provide health insurance coverage to the “roommates” of public employees. In reality, legislative Republicans want to cater to their right-wing base by discriminating against lesbian and gay public employees.
There are other anti-LGBT equality bills moving in the legislature this year. Rep. Tom Hooker, R-Byron Center, has proposed a law that would prevent the Michigan Department of Corrections from covering the costs of gender reassignment surgery for transgender state prisoners, something that is already prohibited under prison guidelines. This mean-spirited and pointless legislation is meant to demonize and degrade the basic dignity of transgender women and men. Another unnecessary bill has been introduced in the legislature by Sen. Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit, and Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Township. This legislation would prevent colleges and universities in Michigan from assigning lower grades to students in psychology programs if the student cites “moral convictions” when refusing to counsel an LGBT client as part of their academic studies. While these students have the right to their own personal beliefs, institutions of higher learning should have academic freedom to design their own curricula and enforce their own grading policies. The legislature does not recognize the right of students in any other area of study to claim a moral exemption to their academic responsibilities, and it would be wrong to allow one to accommodate student bigotry.
While state legislators attempt to pass discriminatory laws against the LGBT community, opinion surveys show that most citizens favor equal rights for gays and lesbians. Michigan faces incredibly important public policy challenges. Our state’s economy continues to suffer under the weight of a slow recovery and high unemployment, and people continue to lose their homes at alarming rates. Amidst all the economic carnage, conservative legislators continue to ignore the needs of the public. People in our state want the governor and the legislature to do something to deal with the stagnant economy. Unfortunately, many of our state leaders would rather demonize segments of our citizenry for political gain than deal with the salient priorities of the public. Homophobic and transphobic legislators need to stop their bigoted efforts to divide Michigan’s citizens against each other. In 2004, national Republicans pursued a similar right-wing, anti-gay agenda in a cynical effort to win that year’s elections. Unfortunately, that effort worked with too many voters, including here in Michigan. In 2011, it appears that the residents of our state are more supportive of equal rights than they were in the past, as evidenced by the overwhelming support for repeal of DADT. We must continue to fight back against the bigots of our state and do everything we can to move our state forward. As the repeal of DADT shows, progress is possible on equality, but only when we participate in the political process.
Contact your State Representative and State Senator in Lansing–urge them to oppose legislative efforts to discriminate against LGBT citizens:
Find your Michigan House member: http://www.house.mi.gov/mhrpublic/
Find your Michigan senator: