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Michigan GOP lawmakers seeking to ban partner benefits for unmarried couples

Michigan GOP lawmakers seeking to ban partner benefits for unmarried couples

During a legislative committee session, the Michigan House Oversight and Reform Committee’s GOP-majority on Tuesday voted to bar public employers from giving benefits to anyone not married or related to an employee.

While there is not a specific reference that addresses same-sex couples, in a telephone interview Wednesday, Equality Michigan’s Policy Director, Emily Dievendorf, said it was obvious whom the intended targets were.

The bills are a response to Republican outrage over a January decision by the Michigan Civil Service Commission to extend health care benefits to unmarried, unrelated adults who reside with state employees.

HB 4770, would prohibit public employers from providing domestic partner benefits, and HB 4771 would prohibit such benefits from being a part of union negotiations

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Dievendorf said that the principle sponsor of both bills, Rep. Dave Agema, (R-Grandview), made clear his disdain for Michigan’s LGBT citizens during testimony offered Tuesday regarding the proposed measures. She noted that Agema has a long history of introducing anti-gay bills designed to limit the equality rights of LGBT citizens of the state.

In May, Agema proposed an amendment to the education budget that would penalize state universities and colleges five percent of their funding if they offered domestic partner benefits for same-sex or unmarried partners. The bill was approved by the House, but later stripped from the budget with a promise to reintroduce as a stand alone bill.

Agema is not alone in his hostility, and according to Dievendorf, Committee’s Chairman Tom McMillin, (R- Rochester) has displayed an antagonistic attitude towards LGBT Michiganders during previous legislative efforts over the past few years to limit same-sex partner benefits.

Dievendorf stated that Michigan might soon become one of the more hostile states towards same-sex couples if these measures were to get full passage in both the state’s House and Senate.

Michigan’s constitution, which already bans same-sex marriage, defining marriage as “the union of one man and one woman,” states that the law is to provide “a special interest in encouraging, supporting, and protecting that unique relationship in order to promote, among other goals, the stability and welfare of society and its children.

“This attack on fairness and equality is unacceptable. Representative Agema has continued his blatant and unapologetic attacks on gay and transgender Michiganders. It’s sad to see this committee supporting him. These radical bills go a long way toward harming Michigan families, businesses and unions,” said Dievendorf.

“While these benefits are often used by both straight and gay couples, anti-gay lawmakers are specifically trying to deny gay couples the ability to care for their families. Hard-working state employees should be compensated appropriately, and that’s why these benefits are offered. Representative Agema’s radically biased social agenda is out of touch with Michigan values,” she said.

The bills were passed 4-2 along party lines. The bills now move to the House floor for a full vote.

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