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Posted on Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 9:05 a.m.

After fierce opposition, state Senate amends domestic partner benefits ban to exclude public universities

By Kellie Woodhouse

University of Michigan employees can take a deep breath.

It appears that domestic partner benefits for university employees no longer hang in the balance due to an amendment to House bill 4770, which seeks to prohibit state employees from extending their health care benefits to same-sex and domestic partners and their children.

The domestic benefits ban was passed by the Senate Wednesday, but amended to exclude public university employees due to severe push back legislators received from higher education advocates.


Andries Coetzee, left, and his partner Gary Woodall stand outside their home in Ann Arbor.

Angela J. Cesere |

The ban will soon go before the state House of Representatives again so legislators can approve the amended version. The bill originally passed through the House by a 64-44 party-line vote in September.

If approved by the House as expected, the bill will go to Gov. Rick Snyder for approval. Snyder could exercise his veto power in an attempt to kill the proposed statute.

"I'm personally relieved but I feel grief because I don't see it as fair," said University of Michigan Latin professor Sara Ahbel-Rappe, who supports her partner and their two children with her U-M benefits, which currently extend to same sex partners.

"It's quite unfortunate for people who don't work for the university and who will lose their domestic partner benefits," she said.

The bill passed through the Senate by a 27-9 margin Wednesday. All 26 Senate Republicans voted to approve it, as did one Democrat.

The bill originally included employees of public universities, but senate Republicans voted at the last minute to exempt higher education institutions due to heavy opposition.

"The university’s concerns appear to have been addressed in the amended legislation that was approved in the state Senate today," U-M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said in an email Wednesday. "However, we continue to believe that these benefits are a critical component for all public and private employers, to retaining and attracting the very best talent that is so important to the continued economic recovery in the state of Michigan."

In November, U-M President Mary Sue Coleman pleaded with lawmakers to eliminate the bill, saying it "would put the university, and our state, at a serious disadvantage compared to peers."

In a letter addressed to all 38 state senators, Coleman asserted getting rid of domestic partner benefits could cause some U-M faculty and staff to leave the school.

In October, several U-M and Eastern Michigan University employees told they were opposed to the ban and would seriously consider leaving their posts if it was successfully passed.

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U-M President Mary Sue Coleman opposes domestic partner benefits ban.

“I question my decision to come to Michigan,” U-M linguistics professor Andries Coetzee said then. Coetzee supports his partner of eight years, who successfully battled cancer last year, with his U-M health benefits.

After the bill passed the House, Cynthia Wilbanks, U-M’s vice president of government relations, said the university was actively lobbying against the bill in Lansing.

"What we offer is legal," Wilbanks said, referring to the university's existing policy of extending benefits to an employee's unmarried partner.

Rep. Dave Agema, a Republican who sponsored the bill, sees the issue differently.

"It is not the responsibility of taxpayers to support the roommates and unmarried partners of public employees," Agema said in a statement. "Providing benefits in this way is not the role of the state, especially when tax dollars are in short supply and there are critical programs being affected by the decrease in revenue.”

Ann Arbor Democrat Rebekah Warren was among the nine legislators who voted against the bill.

“This legislation is not only discriminatory on its very face, but also places Michigan at an economic disadvantage by limiting our public sector from offering the same benefits many private sector businesses already provide," she said in a statement. "We simply cannot keep implementing policies that prevent our local governments from recruiting the best and brightest talent and expect to be able to compete in this increasingly global economy.”

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 1:05 a.m.

Ms. Woodhouse, you can stop any further research regarding my question about who sponsored the amendment excluding university employees. It was State Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Township. You're welcome.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 10:20 p.m.

please update your story!! the free press says this bill is on it's way to the Governor and that it's unclear if it would exclude university employees.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 5:57 p.m.

Politicians are such cowards, either the limit should apply to everybody in the state, or nobody.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 5:16 p.m.

The Senate only approved the amendment due to the ability of Universities to fight this bill in court. The attempted power grab would result in the bill likely being declared unconsitutional and nullified on procedure alone. I hope someone takes up the cause of constitutionality based on marital status. In the world of "total compensation", providing a financial benefit strictly due to being married is clearly a violation. There's were you'll save money if that is "truly" their intent.

Jim Mulchay

Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 4:33 p.m.

If approved, I'd expect this to end up in court - how do you exclude / include a specific group? That seems like just another form of discrimination (university employees vs the rest). I'd guess the other state employees are expected to be pleased by this - or they don't have the right lobbyists?


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 6:16 p.m.

Jim, it's unconstitutional, so it will go to court. In the meantime (and who knows how long THAT will take), we have many families who will lose benefits.

rusty shackelford

Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 5:02 p.m.

Universities have protection to govern their own personnel affairs under state constitution. Gov bureaus, etc, don't.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 4:13 p.m.

In these bad times, the most economically dynamic parts of this country are also the most diverse. These religiously dogmatic "pro business" Republicans in this state are slowly cutting our throats as well as their own. They are raising my state taxes next year by $1200, at least, because they cut the property tax rebate so they can give their business buddies a $1.8B tax break. This tax break, they say, will create jobs. But on the other hand they hobble their efforts to create jobs with things like the anti domestic partner laws. These people are not saving the Michigans economy, they are holding it hostage so they can institute their right wing religious social agenda. I am incensed that my state taxes will rise so much on someone earning so little and I will be going to Ohio to shop. I have several friends and neighbors that will join me. If the Slickster had raised taxes across the board for everyone, I would not be so incensed, but we can see he cares nothing about the 99% and all about the 1% of which he is a member.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 4:08 p.m.

Agema continues to show his stripes as an anti-gay extremist. It amazes me that the MI House even considers a bill by this hate-mongering representative from Grandville, MI. Agema was selected as "the 2009 least effective legislator" by an EPIC/MRA poll and allies himself with the Koran-burning, psuedo-pastor from Florida, Terry Jones. But he has a real nice smile and he flew a fighter plane for the Air Force, so I'm sure he knows what he's talking about.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 3:48 p.m.

Where this creates problems is a married couple is a legal entity whereas a domestic partnership is not, so unmarried couples can be difficult to define. Does somebody you just started dating entitled to the same benefits as a legal spouse? Who knows. What if you date two people at the same time? Thats not illegal, so why can't both be covered under your insurance? The list of hypotheticals goes on and on. The answer is so simple, legalize same sex marriages. Then everybody is playing by the same rules. However this country was founded by God-fearing people and we are still living in that 18th century mentality when it comes to some issues.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 6:15 p.m.

rs, I agree with your conclusion, but the questions in your first paragraph aren't valid. All of that is detailed on the umich website defining other qualified adults. No, you can't insure someone you just started dating. You must live together as a couple for at least six months. You may only have one OQA, just like others can only have one spouse.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 4:12 p.m.

You say God-fearing, but most of the folks who proclaim to be that are really in fear of anyone that's different from themselves. The people that I know who are God-loving don't discriminate against others for their differences.

Usual Suspect

Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 4:03 p.m.

Marriage, no. Some other term yes. It isn't marriage, though. The word "gay" was taken and ruined. The words "partner," "alternative," "lifestyle," "pride," the rainbow, and other words and symbols were taken and ruined. The line has been drawn at the word "marriage." Find another word and I will vote for full equality.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 3:58 p.m.

Very true. I was going to say that we are living with a medieval mentality, but 18th century works just fine for me!


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 3:37 p.m.

Ms. Woodhouse, is it known who introduced the amendment to exclude public universities from this bill?

Rork Kuick

Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 3:35 p.m.

Theorem: When they say it's not about the money, suspect that it's about the money. Corollary: When they insist it is about the money, suspect it isn't.

City Confidential

Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 3:34 p.m.

Great for UM employees, but what about public school employees and others? Now that we don't have outspoken university employees to help with defense, what about the smaller group who is *still* being discriminated against? Not your problem anymore because it doesn't affect you? Wasn't that what you were upset about when it *did* seem to affect you? UM should stand with the rest of the public sector employees until *everyone* has the protections for their partners that the University is giving to its employees!!


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 6:26 p.m.

Absolutely .... who says that University employees don't support all public employees? The local control and Michigan Civil Service Commission constitutional autonomy argument ought to be litigated fully if this awful bill passes the Governor's desk!


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 6:12 p.m.

I'm outspoken, employed by U-M and furious that that's now a requirement to get benefits for same-sex partners and families. Trust me, I have no plans to stop talking about it.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 3:20 p.m.

A few more 'deep breaths' ( per the article) are in order... and then maybe /hopefully alot of the extremist Republicans ( although its nowadays hard to find any other kind!) will grow a conscience.....and maybe even switch parties.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 4:18 p.m.

usual: what's MSLSD?? and yeah: i really am convinced by your argument about extreme -right republicans ( or nay other kind of 'my way or the highway' types only doing their shtick because of an ultimate desire for "balance" ( e.g. " let's believe in semi-evolution/semi divine creationism... on alternate days maybe" ?? or " those in same sex-marriages are only gonna go to purgatory ,instead of all the way to hell"??)


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 4:15 p.m.

The National Socialist Party is always looking for new members...


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 4:02 p.m.

@usual suspect, there is a different between "balance" as you call it, and down right crazy (i.e. systematically marginalizing a part of the population by removing their access to health care).

Usual Suspect

Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 3:58 p.m.

As long an extremest lefty is in the White House (I know, you'll try to say he's really a centrist because MSLSD says so), there is need for balance on the other end.

David Briegel

Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 3:34 p.m.

You may be too optomistic! Keep up the good work!


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 3:11 p.m.

The USA makes foreign aid decisions partially based on a country's treatment of its LGBT population, and yet Michigan dishonors itself with this hateful, discriminatory, mean spirited bill banning health care benefits to domestic partners. Let's hope the Governor sees the ridicule the passage of this bill will cause him and this State nationally as well as the expensive litigation sure to result. For shame.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 4:01 p.m.

while I agree with the "for shame" it's not the governor who you need to direct your anger at. While he will ultimately be the one to sign the bill, he didn't write it or push for its passage. This is the result of bigoted special interests controlling our secular government.

Usual Suspect

Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 2:48 p.m.

Oh, good, our precious professors are protected.

Usual Suspect

Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 3:57 p.m.

I know, right? To those of us who don't work there, that's really all that matters! GO BLUE!

Michigan Man

Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 3:54 p.m.

US - As far as I am concerned anyone at U of M who feels they need to flee the State of Michigan/Ann Arbor area is fine with me - no one will miss them - Dozens who will choose to stay in Michigan, invest in the community and be happy with their fine jobs will get in line quickly - the U of M football will also not be hurt by this academic departure.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 3:02 p.m.

And the many thousands of other employees of the University, the Health System, and all other public Universities throughout the State.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 2:46 p.m.

I honestly don't know what's wrong with our government anymore (both federal and state). It seems so plain and simple to me to offer benefits to same and different sex partners if you're going to offer benefits to any kind of dependent. They're not roommates; they're partners. Just because marriage is not, or chooses not, to be an option isn't grounds for exclusion. It's so ridiculous that a lousy marriage can be considered perfectly "normal", but a loving partnership isn't considered normal by some. Like I said above, it seems simple to me, but maybe I'm just too simple for my own good.


Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 9:50 p.m.

Please explain to me why government employees have so many more benefits than private employees? How many private companies offer health care to unmarried couples, whether same sex or heterosexual? Will this benefit, if allowed, be offered to heterosexual partners that are unmarried? If not, isn't that a form of sexual discrimination? Now if you mention it is because heterosexual couples can get married, how does anyone know if these same sex couples would in fact get married even if legally permitted to do so? Marriage brings with it some serious legal and financial commitments that maybe the government require similar legal contracts between these same sex couples before granting coverage like....right of inheritance, beneficiary for 401K's 402b's.....etc. etc. Or government covers unmarried heterosexual couples and their children too. Maybe a National health plan might be the answer. I honestly don't understand how you can be so certain that there won't be a serious problem with scams. Example.....Joe has aids, cancer, etc. etc. and now I can declare him/her as my partner so they can get top notch healthcare and continue as necessary.