Thursday, May 08, 2008

That Did Not Take Nearly As Long As We Expected

Commenter Anonymous points out that a few "homosexual activist" publications--such cachet; I must remember to add that to my blog tagline one of these days--have admitted that reactions to the Michigan Supreme Court domestic partner benefits such as those in the previous post are just trumped! up! hysteria! over! nothing!
"'The Michigan Court of Appeals decision never said that public employers could not provide health care coverage to domestic partners of employees,' Kaplan wrote in an e-mail. He said that employers can provide health insurance coverage for domestic partners as long as they do not specifically recognize the domestic partner relationship — by filing domestic partner benefit forms, for example — when determining criteria for insurance eligibility."

Kalamazoo Alliance for Equality, a homosexual activist group, said last June in a news release: "The Michigan Court of Appeals did not say that health insurance coverage for domestic partners is illegal. The court said that public employers cannot use criteria that recognizes the domestic partner relationship."

Well, I guess that settles that. Or does it? Let's take a look at how the city of East Lansing and Michigan State U are trying to work around the state constitution in order to continue extending benefits to same-sex partners without explicitly calling it extending benefits to same-sex partners.

MSU’s Other Eligible Individual program, which takes effect next month, is a pilot endeavor designed to provide benefits to individuals selected by employees. That will, in effect, allow same-sex couples to keep domestic partner benefits as well as extend benefits to unmarried opposite-sex couples for the first time.

When MSU approved domestic-partner benefits in 1997, opposite-sex couples were specifically excluded from benefits on the grounds that they could marry. According to the program’s guidelines, an MSU employee who has not specified a spouse may select an individual to receive health and dental coverage. This individual cannot be related to the employee by blood. The two must have shared a residence for 18 months on a non-tenant basis.

While this may prove to be a workable end-run around the constitutional prohibition on state recognition of non-straight marriages, it's somewhat disingenuous and seems, on its face, to be open to equal-protection challenges. Leave aside for a moment the wink-wink, nudge-nudge quality of a rule that prohibits you from claiming a beneficiary on the basis of a committed romantic relationship, but requires you to have shared a residence with your beneficiary for a year and a half before that person becomes eligible for coverage. And try to ignore the differential valuation of your relationship when married partners get coverage from day one, while your relationship is required to demonstrate the potential for longevity for a year and a half--be sure to brush well and floss twice a day in the interim--a period of time during which your straight colleague could divorce and re-marry three times, each time with the option of immediately signing his blushing bride onto his healthcare package, no questions asked.

Attempting maintaining benefits for domestic partners with just a bit of semantic sleight-of-hand doesn't fly with the Michigan branch of the AFA. In response to the Jay Kaplan e-mail (cited by Anonymous in the original post's comments), which concludes , “the new criteria developed by MSU address this issue. All public employers can provide coverage for (domestic partnerships) using these criteria,” we get this:

Not necessarily, says Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan. Glenn, who co-wrote Proposal 2, is unsure whether the MSU program violates the state Constitution.

“If MSU is just trying to cleverly restrict eligibility only to your unmarried sex partner, then I think the courts would eventually find this policy to be unconstitutional,” Glenn said.

Curiously, Glenn has no problem with an expanded benefits program adopted over in Ann Arbor, even though it includes gays too.

Glenn cited a similar proposal by the University of Michigan’s graduate employees organization that would allow a staff or faculty member to select any individual as a beneficiary. He said this program would be constitutional.

“Any employee could put a sick grandmother on health insurance, or a next door neighbor, or a homosexual partner,” Glenn said. “Those benefits would have nothing whatsoever to do with U of M, as a government employer, recognizing a homosexual relationship as being equal or similar to marriage as a basis for providing benefits.”

So admitting gay couples to the dental plan party unacceptably destroys the sanctity and specialness of marriage--and is generally cited by anti-gay howlers as them being forced to subsidize a perversion that squicks them out--but throwing the doors open and recognizing a grandmother-granddaughter relationship or platonic roommate relationship or next door neighbor relationship or single guy-homeless guy in the culvert relationship "as being equal or similar to marriage as the basis for providing benefits," while also incidentally recognizing gay relationships the same way, doesn't diminish the special sacred juju of marriage in their eyes? An institution is only wrecked when the gays are the only ones let inside the velvet rope?

News flash to Gary Glenn: even the blanket plan still treats gay couples as equal beneficiaries to straight couples. Are you really okay with that, or do you just enjoy forcing institutions to jump through multiple complicated, expensive hoops in order to get things back to exactly the way they were before you poked your nose into other people's business?

Of course, this whole thing may have been a wicked clever ploy by the American Family Association to force public institutions to formally divorce healthcare coverage from "marriage," thus forcing employers to support families in all forms, whether that means traditionally married straight couples, gay couples, single guys and their ailing grandmothers, two elderly sisters, whatever. While I would love to believe that last one, it stretches credulity.

Oh, and Anonymous? Don't pretend that the Michigan lawsuits didn't really mean anything in the end for the gay couples in that state who have either had their benefits summarily yanked or will have them yanked when their current contracts expire. If they didn't have the effect of punishing same-sex couples for failing to adhere to your personal beliefs, they would not have been filed, nor would they have been appealed up to the state supreme court, nor would the state universities and municipal school districts be scrambling now to formulate policies with language even an AFA attorney won't be able to weasel into a Deny Coverage directive. You can have domestic partner benefits as long as you don't call them domestic partner benefits has a short version, and it goes something like get back in the closet, faggots, and that's a message that tends to ring out loud and clear, no matter how many layers of equivocation you try to layer over it.


Jeff said...


Anonymous said...

Bolt says: "Don't pretend that the Michigan lawsuits didn't really mean anything in the end for the gay couples in that state who have either had their benefits summarily yanked or will have them yanked when their current contracts expire."

Bolt, you need to deal with the real world and leave manufactured Outrageland.

No one in Michigan has lost any benefits, and no one is likely to, since all the public employers who used to offer DP benefits either already do or are working on adopting the new broader criteria.

BTW, the U-M plan Glenn was talking about in your quote above is different and much broader than the MSU plan. The MSU plan is so restrictive that it may well not pass constitutional muster, though it does appear that two individuals of the same sex who share a residence but who are not romantically or sexually involved can also qualify under the MSU plan. That may be enough.

Bottom line is that because of the new broader criteria which public employers had to adopt to "get around" the amendment, MORE Michigan residents are now eligible for coverage under govt. employees' health care plans than were before.

So again, you wish the Supreme Court had ruled the other way so all the employers could revert back to the old plans and take insurance away from the categories of employees who are now eligible for benefits but weren't before?

Boltgirl said...

anony, from one of the articles you cited yesterday:

Shortly after the ruling, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox ruled that current contracts with domestic partner benefits would not be impacted, but any new contracts under negotiation could not include such benefits in the future.

The Ann Arbor News also reported that the Ann Arbor public schools will cancel their benefits program for same-sex partners when the current contract ends in 2009.

Which kind of suggests that people will indeed lose their benefits, unless those contracts are rewritten with bombproof language.

And now you're casting me as the bad guy because I chafe when gay people are forced to jump through hoops in order to secure benefits straight people are handed without blinking? Nice spin job there. Of course I would prefer that all employees, both private and public, be free to designate the beneficiary of their choice, irrespective of a blood or marital relationship. Should Michigan adopt such a policy, it will be an unexpectedly nice resolution to an ugly situation. That in no way exonerates the spiteful lawsuits that were originally intended to prevent anyone but married straight people from extending their healthcare benefits to their partners.

I am genuinely curious, though, as to why someone in your camp--which has consistently argued for an exclusive status for married straight couples--is suddenly praising a policy that puts everyone on an equal benefits footing. I'm all for it. I simply have never heard many anti-marriage-equality folks be for it since they tend to want only domestic arrangements they approve of to be subsidized.

Want "manufactured outrage?" Look no further than these deliberately inciteful constitutional amendments adopted in states where same-sex marriage is already prohibited by statute, where they're voted in on a wave of manufactured "threats" to marriage.

Anonymous said...

Because the Marriage Protection Amendment and subsequent court rulings required Michigan public employers to broaden benefits eligibility criteria, more citizens -- not fewer -- are eligible for coverage under government employee health care plans now than were before the amendment's passage.

DETROIT FREE PRESS: "The practical effect of the Michigan Supreme Court ruling on the marriage amendment's effect on same-sex benefits may be next to nothing... The silver lining, if there is one, is that public employers who provided same-sex health benefits have so far found a way around the amendment's strictures by offering benefits more widely than just to same-sex or heterosexual couples; the University of Michigan, for example, now offers employees the chance to extend benefits to any nonrelated designee."

MICHIGAN INDEPENDENT (University of Michigan): "The decision should not affect the University’s employee health care coverage. After the 2007 Court of Appeals decision, the University no longer offers benefits on the basis of same-sex domestic partner relationships; but had changed their policies so that employees’ partners would remain covered."

LANSING STATE JOURNAL: The "ruling Wednesday by Michigan's high court about same-sex benefits is likely to have little local effect. That's because months ago, many Lansing officials began rewording their domestic partner benefits packages."

ANN ARBOR NEWS: "When a Michigan Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday upheld a ban on governments and universities extending benefits to the gay partners of employees, the University of Michigan and city of Ann Arbor were already prepared. U-M and the city had previously altered their policies by taking out any mention of 'same-sex.' That revision should allow them to continue extending benefits within the law, said officials with the ACLU, city of Ann Arbor and U-M. ...ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss said her organization will work with municipalities on their policy language so it adheres with Wednesday's ruling and still offers benefits to unmarried couples."

ASSOCIATED PRESS: "Gay rights advocates...are confident that public-sector employers have successfully rewritten or will revise their benefit plans so same-sex partners can keep getting health care."

DETROIT FREE PRESS: "There is likely to be no immediate impact from the ruling because public employers in Michigan who had offered such benefits already had changed their policies to ensure their employees' partners would remain covered. ...Dozens of public employees' partners most likely will be able to continue to be eligible for health care under benefit changes that allow unmarried employees to cover a designated beneficiary."

Anonymous said...

Bolt asks: "I am genuinely curious, though, as to why someone in your camp--which has consistently argued for an exclusive status for married straight couples--is suddenly praising a policy that puts everyone on an equal benefits footing."

I am NOT praising the policies that resulted, I'm just pointing out the truth that they have in fact resulted, which is exactly the opposite of the imagined outrage to which your original post was reacting.

What's constitutional and what's good public policy are two different things.

You're correct: I believe society and government should uniquely incentivize marriage between one man and one woman, because of the proven benefits of marriage (defined as being between a man and a woman) to society.

But doing something other than that is no unconstitutional in Michigan.

What is now unconstitutional is for govt employers to single out homosexual partners only for special treatment as if homosexual relationships are equal or similar to marriage. They're not -- both in fact and as a matter of law.

Boltgirl said...

Okay, so I'm vehemently opposed to the constitutional amendment but pleasantly surprised at the public policy that has been crafted in response. You dig the amendment and not the responding policy. I support the ability of employees to designate any beneficiary they wish, but am annoyed that the entire process is something of an official re-closeting of committed same-sex relationships, which I believe have the same functional and moral standing as a straight marriage. You don't think they do.

And that's probably as constructive as this is likely to get. Thank you for providing the links you have about the situation in Michigan.