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Posted on Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 6:06 a.m.

Public employers in Michigan must be allowed to offer domestic partner benefits

By Tony Dearing

Legislation that’s been approved in the state House would strip local governments, schools and public universities of their ability to offer health insurance or other benefits to the domestic partners of their employees. This is not an issue where the state can afford to retreat.

Supporters of House Bill 4770 and 4771 contend that tax dollars should not be used to provide benefits to the unmarried partners of public employees and their children. It also would deny their right to include the issue in collective bargaining agreements.


Andries Coetzee, left, and his partner Gary Woodall stand outside of their home in Ann Arbor. Woodall, who is in remission after battling a rare form of cancer, fears he will lose his health care coverage if the Legislature eliminates domestic partner benefits for public employees.

Angela J. Cesere |

While such benefits are currently offered to both heterosexual and homosexual couples, it’s clear to us that the impetus for the bill is to deny these benefits to same-sex partners, and we think that’s not only unfair, it’s also bad economic policy.

We oppose this legislation, which we consider an inappropriate and ill-conceived attempt to impose a blatantly discriminatory social agenda on public employers, denying them an option that is widely available in the private sector and hampering their ability to compete for talent.

We see no reason that public employees should be singled out, and stripped of benefits that are commonplace in private business. The Human Rights Campaign reports that 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partner benefits to their employees. These companies understand that in today’s economy, if they want to compete for the best talent, it’s in their interest to offer a work climate that is tolerant, diverse and welcoming.

The University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University and the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce understand the same thing. That’s why they have joined the growing chorus of voices calling upon the state Senate to reject HB 4770 and 4771.

The chamber approved a statement last month warning that the legislation would be discriminatory, as well as detrimental to the business climate locally and across the state. Sean Duval, chairman of the chamber’s public policy committee, told that the state cannot afford to be “exclusionary’’ when it is trying to attractive and retain good employees. “We are a better place because of the diversity of the wonderful people who call this region home, and we want our public institutions to use every tool they have to attract and retain each and every bright individual.’’

We entirely share that sentiment, and so do many in our community. In a poll conducted on our web site last month, more than 1,600 people responded and three-fourths said they oppose this legislation.

Last week, reported that the unemployment rate for Washtenaw County fell to 5.7 percent in October, the second-lowest rate in Michigan. At a time when the state’s economy is only beginning to show signs of a fragile recovery, we are fortunate to be a bright spot in employment. Part of that success can be found in the ability of our public institutions like U-M and EMU to generate jobs and attract talent. Our growing high-tech sector also is adding jobs and luring well-educated, well-paid workers to the community. This is absolutely the wrong time to put economic recovery and job growth at risk by slamming the door shut to a portion of the very work force that we’re trying to attract.

We also believe that supporters of this legislation are making too much of the supposed cost of providing domestic partner benefits to public employees. In fact, that cost is negligible. U-M President Mary Sue Coleman, who has been vocal in opposing the bills, points out that the domestic partner benefits provided to roughly 620 adults and children through the university’s medical plan account for 0.7 percent of the total $302 million in health-care costs. Presumably, if employees left over time because their domestic partners were no longer covered, they would be replaced by new hires who are more likely to be married. These spouses would, of course, be eligible for benefits, saving little money in the long-run.

Any of our public employers, whether it’s the University of Michigan or a local school district or township, should have the autonomy to offer whatever array of benefits it finds appropriate to attract and keep workers. The idea that the state would step in and force those employers to treat some workers as second-class citizens, undeserving of benefits that remain available to others working alongside them, is repugnant to us. We call on the state Senate to reject House Bills 4770 and 4771.

(This editorial was published in today's newspaper and reflects the opinion of the Editorial Board at


Monica R-W

Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 6:50 a.m.

Elections have ill-effects. Of course this is wrong as public employers should have the same rights to provide domestic partner benefits as private entities. This is a blatant attack on individuals because of a lifestyle, which is wrong in itself. In most cases, to receive domestic partner benefits, employees pay a higher premium rate than traditional married couples. In my humble opinion, that should be enough. No other barriers should be placed on these individuals who are just trying to have health and life insurance. It shows how incredibly harsh the GOP want to punish anyone (including children of these domestic partners) who don't fit into their make believe nuclear family mode....or are poor, middle class or of color. The sad part about this, is that Ann endorsed Gov. Rick Snyder and some of this merry band of GOP "leaders" ---a word I use lightly--- in the last election cycle. As we continue to learn, it was a grave mistake. Many in Washtenaw County and round our state were fooled by the "One Tough Nerd" crapola. Also, the other "popular" mistaken slogan of lies at the time was, "It's time to get rid of the Democrats and make "change". Yes, we're getting a lot of change but, none of it good for a majority of Michiganders. Who's paying for this know, the type of thinking that lead to the GOP holding a monopoly on all branches of our Government? Anyone who's not a part of the top 2% in wealth, within our beloved state.


Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 11:52 a.m.

We are also taxed on the value of the benefit, which married (straight) couples are not. That's not insignificant.


Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 1:37 a.m.

Even the poll conducted here showed just 20% feel this hateful, discriminatory ban would be a good thing. Isn't that a sad commentary that even that small number feel that it's ok to discriminate in this day and age ? I'm sure they identify as Christian, loving people as well. Unbelievable. The false ruse that this would be a cost savings is ridiculous, as replaced employees would likely have spouses and or children making the benefit costs higher. It's clearly meant to discriminate against same sex partners or unmarried partners.


Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 1:37 a.m.

Personnely, I stand neutral on most same issues what others do in their own homes,who they like or love or sexual interests is hardly my business. However, I question how this proposal will inflate the costs of tuition and other costs associated with higher education. At a time when cities across the nation are asking for concessions from labor organizations both union and not how can we honestly say medical coverage will not increase? Why should I or anyone else pay more because Jim & Bob or Sally & Sue are "hooked up" in a relationship.


Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 11:51 a.m.

Why should anyone pay more because you're married or have kids? Those are choices, right? The difference is that you can get married. We can't. It doesn't mean that the relationship is any more or less valid than your marriage, only that bigotry affects us in a way it doesn't affect you.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 11:14 p.m.

I think this is the first piece published by A2 dot com about the issue that didn't leave me railing about stupid comments. It's SUCH a breath of fresh air to see almost nothing but support for our family here. Thank you.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 8:58 p.m.

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics March 2011. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> "For unmarried domestic partner benefits, about half the workers in state and local government have access to survivor benefits, as compared to 7 percent of the workers in private industry, reflecting in part the difference in the availability of defined benefit plans between these groups. Thirty-three percent of state and local government workers and 29 percent of private sector workers have access to health care benefits for unmarried domestic partners of the same sex. Access to benefits varies by employer and employee characteristics and by whether the unmarried domestic partner is of the same or opposite sex."


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 9:41 p.m.

This link is to the full Human Rights Campaign report verifying domestic partner coverage data for the S&amp;P 500, company by company beginning on page 40 column 3A. However, the report details much more info including info on survivor benefits and many other benefits that show how same sex partners are either treated the same by the companies or where discrimination exists. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Mark Salke

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 7:18 p.m.

Its simple. The right thing to do. Support all families. Embrace diversity. Move on. The 'cost' of providing domestic partner benefits is far less than the alternative of litigating the alternatives indefinitely. I do not support House Bill 4770 and 4771.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 4:16 p.m.

How frequently can these &quot;domestic partnerships&quot; churn and burn their relationships ? Flavor of the month club ? What are the criteria for determining if someone is in a domestic partnership ? Are heterosexual &quot;partnerships&quot; going to be included, if not do explain ? There is a lot of room for abuse and fraud by people claiming to be in &quot;partnerships&quot; when they truly are not. And lastly, don't take my tax dollars and spend it on activities that I consider immoral ! Go Green Go White


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 5:41 p.m.

stun, I don't want you to tax yourself (ha! I slay me) by having to do any actual research, so here's the information on how OQAs are determined to be eligible: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> You'll note that, at best, we'll have &quot;flavor of the six months.&quot; Only people in opposite sex relationships have the option of a flavor of the month (or 72 hours or, you know, whatever you think you want to do).


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 5:28 p.m.

You consider health care immoral? Then I trust you don't use it. As far as the apparently sacrosanct heterosexual marriage, I have two words: Kim Kardashian. Or any of the other short-lived straight marriages out there. Finally, when you sign up a spouse for benefits, you're rarely if ever expected to prove your legal marriage. When it's an OQA, there are a clear set of hoops. See how much more sense it makes when you're not looking at it from a seat of heterosexual privilege?

David Briegel

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 3:08 p.m.

While some go about preaching hate for one group or another and society in general proceeds with take aways from anyone who has benefits under the guise that some don't, it becomes more clear every day that the problem is that we need Health Care for ALL our citizens. That is the single biggest problem for business and the whole of society. 50 million citizens without health care. 20 million children! Bankruptcies caused by huge health care bills resulting in foreclosures. The list goes on and on! Providing Health Care for all would take that issue off the table as an issue for all! Business would benefit as would all of society. And America could then join the more civilized nations of the world!

Mike D.

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 2:49 p.m.

Thanks for writing this. In reality, far more than 60% of large companies offer the benefits. 60% is what HRC could verify for sure. They didn't get complete information from many companies. Some have raised the specter of abuse of these benefits, but it's a straw man; these abuses don't exist in any meaningful quantity in real life because there are safeguards in place to verify the domestic partnership and employees risk getting fired if they obtain the benefits fraudulently. This isn't about saving money; it's about discrimination.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 9:37 p.m.

The U conducted a benefit eligibility audit as many private companies do to make sure that those on their plans are eligible. My understanding is that they found many who were not eligible on the plans who were removed, people claimed as dependents who didn't meet eligibility requirements, etc.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 8:37 p.m.

Rob, please explain the process that the University used to out the &quot;inappropriate cases. Where did you get that information? Can you cite where it is found?


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 3:12 p.m.

Absolutely, there are eligibility criteria that must be confirmed and statements that must be signed before these benefits are offered or else they become fraudulent. I understand the University had many instances of cases where individuals were enrolled, shall we say &quot;inappropriately&quot; that were found and corrected during a recent audit that had nothing to do with this situation - just some hypocritical straight people abusing the system.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

The State constitution guarantees the universities' Regents autonomy in the running of their university, the Michigan Civil Service Commission the right to determine benefits for state employees, and local governments the rights of local control. The US Fourteenth Amendment prohibits animus towards any group. Should these hate filled, discriminatory laws pass, there will be years of very expensive litigation, costing much more than the cost of the benefits affected and will give Michigan yet another black eye nationally despite overwhelming evidence that the majority of Americans support these benefits and rights for same sex partners. Is this how Michigan wants to spend its limited resources, or should the republicans begin to try focusing on a job building plan that they actually campaigned on but have yet to do anything on?

David Briegel

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 3:55 p.m.

Tony, A little thing like our constitution never got in the way of our not so noble majority party! They can't even follow their own Gov!

Tony Dearing

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 3:11 p.m.

Yes, agreed, this is a very important point to bring to the discussion. This legislation is a direct affront to the constitutional autonomy of universities. Michael Gadola, legal counsel to Gov. Snyder, sent a letter in May to the Republican leaders in the Senate and House, advising them that these bills are unconstitutional and unenforceable because they infringe on the constitutional right of universities to set the terms of employment for their workers. Local governments and schools don't have the same constitutional protection, but universities definitely do.

Mike D.

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 2:50 p.m.

I have been wondering why more people haven't brought up the universities' constitutionally guaranteed autonomy. I suspect this hate law wouldn't impact the universities when this is said and done, but the U's are smart to head off the litigation anyhow.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 2:26 p.m.

&quot;The Human Rights Campaign reports that 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partner benefits to their employees. &quot; I question that percentage and outside the fortune 500 companies, very few employers offer same sex benefits because they are too burdensome financially and impossible to manage and verify. For that matter, heterosexual unmarried partners would have to be included so those that are &quot;shack-ing&quot; up could claim partner benefits just as their homosexual would enjoy. So Jim who is employed is &quot;shacked up&quot; with Sally, and Sally has 15 kids from another &quot;partnership&quot;. So now Jim's employer is on the hook for providing benefits for not only Jim but Sally and her brood. This legislation needs to be passed and quickly. Good Day

Fire Rick

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 5:21 p.m.

&quot;For that matter, heterosexual unmarried partners would have to be included so those that are &quot;shack-ing&quot; up could claim partner benefits just as their homosexual would enjoy. So Jim who is employed is &quot;shacked up&quot; with Sally, and Sally has 15 kids from another 'partnership'. So now Jim's employer is on the hook for providing benefits for not only Jim but Sally and her brood.&quot; There's a simple solution to that &quot;problem.&quot; Allow homosexual partners the same right afforded to heterosexual partners - marriage. Then there's no question about &quot;verification.&quot; Problem solved.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 3:04 p.m.

Here we go again. The link is to the full Human Right Campaign report verifying the data, and disputing your &quot;feeling&quot;, company by company begins on page 40 column 3A. Next? <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 2:01 p.m.

Just the Republicans again throwing red meat to their base constituencies. They tossed $1.8 billion to their business buddies (with no strings attached) and that was our tax money. So where are the jobs they promised?

hut hut

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 1:53 p.m.

One set of rules, equally applied, for everyone. Bob Marley said it best <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 1:32 p.m.

&quot;We see no reason that public employees should be singled out, and stripped of benefits that are commonplace in private business.&quot; What a silly sentence. If you accept legislative money, you get legislative control. For good or bad.-


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 8:11 p.m.

&quot;If you accept legislative money, you get legislative control&quot; is just a silly sentence ... in that it is incorrect when it violates the State constitution as it does in the case of Universities. State Universities have Constitution autotomy provided to their Regents and are not subjected to legislative control. Fortunately this same Constitution also provides that the Michigan Civil Service Commission controls benefits for state employees. See how these &quot;silly&quot; things work now ?


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 1:55 p.m.

LOL &quot;legislative money&quot;????? I don't THINK so.