Friday, February 02, 2007

Prayers for domestic partner benefits in Michigan, and the Millstone Award for February

In the 2004 elections, citizens of Michigan voted for Proposal 2: To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children, the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.

The first part of the proposal is already problematic. The second could have been read to ban domestic partner benefits. Right-wing legal groups later sued several public universities, seeking to get them to end DP benefits. The ACLU sued the state, seeking clarification. Ingham county's Circuit Court ruled that the amendment did not bar DP benefits. However, the right-wing people appealed, and our Appeals Court, which is known to lean conservative, ruled that the amendment: “prohibits public employers from recognizing same-sex unions for any purpose,” including the provision of employee health benefits.

Opinion polls generally reveal that Americans are perfectly OK with domestic partner benefits, although a majority want to keep marriage for opposite-sex couples. In other words, the amendment's results are NOT what ordinary Americans generally want. I am pretty sure that the people who worded the amendment did so knowing that this could happen, or intending that it happen.

Therefore, February's Millstone Award goes to the Michigan Family Forum, a primary supporter of Proposal 2. On their FAQ page (, they claim the following:

"Q. Will this take away existing health benefits from children of same-sex partners?

A. No. While opponents claim this will be a significant problem, no child is in danger of losing benefits."

They were either stupid or lying. In fact, if they were lying, they possibly contradict themselves two questions later: "A. Legal experts disagree on how much this may restrict public universities. The Michigan Constitution grants universities significant autonomy to govern themselves through their elected Boards. It is reasonable to assume that state funds will be prohibited from from going to same-sex partner benefits while other funding sources, such as tuition, fees or donations, will be allowed to pay for same-sex partner benefits."

First, the case is going to the MI Supreme Court. Second, if I understand the law correctly, private businesses and organizations will not be prohibited from offering DP benefits; however, it is not certain how many choose to do so, and it's likely that public organizations are leading the way.

Meanwhile, people are likely to be deprived of domestic partner benefits. For reasons dating back to WWII, health insurance in the US is linked to employment. This arrangement is dysfunctional, and exists in no other industrialized country. Medical bills are a leading cause of bankruptcy, and bankruptcy can happen even to those with insurance.

As a result, this is a human rights issue. And so, whether they intended this or not, the Michigan Family Foundation and their allies receive February's Millstone Award.

Ordinary citizens of Michigan, frankly, are NOT off the hook. I know there is a lot of information out there, and that politics is very hard to keep track of. However, this amendment only got passed because people voted for it, and carelessness is no excuse. Citizens need to educate themselves and stay engaged and aware. If they don't, fiascoes like this one happen.

NYT article:

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