By Jay Kaplan
This past week the Michigan House passed, along partisan lines, bills HB 4770 and 4771, which would prohibit public employers from providing health insurance coverage for unmarried domestic partners whether they are heterosexual or same sex. However, make no mistake, the targets of this legislation are gay couples whose families are receiving health insurance coverage.
Public employers include state colleges and universities, cities and townships, public school districts, and the Michigan Civil Service Commission. Should this legislation become law, hundreds of LGBT families stand to lose their health insurance benefits.
Not only is this legislation mean-spirited and a blatant attempt to discriminate against LGBT families, it also represents a dangerous interference by Michigan’s legislature with the constitutional authority of public employers to set the terms and conditions of employee contracts.
It is truly disheartening to know that 66 out of 109 elected leaders have chosen discrimination over the state’s critical need to attract and retain the brightest talent and new industry. The legislature’s failure to recognize and support the diversity of Michigan’s workforce will only make our state a less welcoming place for innovative entrepreneurs who are willing to invest their talent and resources in our state. It’s no coincidence that the majority of Fortune 500 companies provide health insurance for employees with live-in partners.
Although this development may seem grim, the fight for domestic partner benefits in Michigan isn’t over. It now has to pass the Senate and be presented to the governor. That’s where all of us come in. We need to let Gov. Rick Snyder know why this bill is bad for Michigan. In 2010, Governor Snyder ran on a platform based on improving Michigan’s economy. He specifically stated that he would not let socially divisive issues, including whether gay people should have access to healthcare, interfere or detract from improving our state’s economy. Tell Gov. Snyder to keep his promise and reject HB 4770 and 4771 for the following reasons:
1. It’s bad for our economy. Our elected officials should not be in the business of telling employers what to do to attract the brightest and best talent. It goes against best practices of the biggest and most successful corporations in Michigan. If we are truly going to attract the most talented and loyal people to invest in Michigan, we cannot pull away the welcome mat.
2. It is unconstitutional. It clearly usurps specific powers granted in Michigan’s Constitution giving public employers the autonomy to decide the terms of compensation, including health insurance coverage. The governor’s own legal counsel previously advised the legislature that it is unconstitutional to penalize colleges and universities that provide health insurance coverage to domestic partners of employees. In addition, should the legislation pass, it will be challenged on constitutional grounds in court. Costly litigation is not the best way to spend the state’s scarce resources. Especially when we already know the outcome – the law will be overturned.
3. At a time when state resources are severely limited, we cannot take away employee health insurance coverage from families. Less insurance coverage will only increase the demand for state funded insurance programs, like Medicaid, which are already financially strapped. Michigan families are stronger when health insurance is available to all.
We must keep vigilant. Now is the time to fight for what is right for Michigan and the LGBT community. It’s our responsibility to start making the collective voice of the LGBT community and its allies heard. Contact your state senator and tell him/her to vote no on this package. Then contact Gov. Snyder and tell him that should House Bills 4770 and 4771 arrive on his desk, he needs to do the right thing and veto these bills. For questions, feel free to contact me at [email protected]