ACLU Urges Governor Snyder to Protect Michigan Families, Veto Anti-Domestic Partner Bills

December 12, 2011

DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today urged Governor Rick Snyder on behalf of four families to veto legislation that would ban public employers from providing domestic partner benefits. House Bills 4770 and 4771 passed the State House and Senate late last week.

“While debating these bills, legislators talked about everything from cost to gay marriage, however not one sponsoring legislator discussed the real impact of these bills – the families that are at risk of losing their healthcare benefits because of political games,” said Jay Kaplan, ACLU of Michigan Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project staff attorney. “Governor Snyder must stay above the ideological fray and do what’s best for our state and its residents. Taking away health benefits from our residents during a time of economic uncertainty is mean-spirited and harmful to our economy.”

Since the bills passed the House in September and the Senate last week, the ACLU of Michigan has heard from a number of families at risk of losing their benefits, including:

  • Dennis and Thomas Patrick who have been in a committed relationship for 14 years and have five adopted children. Thomas receives his health benefits through Dennis’ employer, Eastern Michigan University. Thomas has a degenerative disc condition and has had two surgeries to date. Thomas works part-time in order to care for their children with special needs.

  • Nancy Katz and Margo Dichtelmiller who have been in a committed relationship for 37 years. Nancy is a retired attorney and receives her insurance coverage through Margo’s employer Eastern Michigan University. In 2009, Nancy was diagnosed with a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and underwent radiation, followed by chemotherapy.

  • Jolinda Jach and Barbara Ramber who have been in a committed relationship for 17 years and have two young children. Barbara receives her health insurance coverage through Jolinda’s employer, the City of Kalamazoo. Barbara is battling blindness and rheumatoid arthritis. Barbara works part-time in order to be home for their kids after school.

  • Deb Harrah and Michelle Corwin who have been in a committed relationship for 11 years. Michelle receives her health insurance coverage through Deb’s employer, the Kent County Department of Human Services. Michelle has been diagnosed with diabetes and several related health issues. She is also recovering from a recent surgery. Michelle has been looking for work since 2009 when the non-profit organization she worked for closed its doors

If Governor Snyder signs HB 4770 and 4771 into law, Thomas, Nancy, Barbara and Michelle will lose their insurance coverage and will have difficulty finding affordable and comprehensive health care plans given their preexisting or current health conditions. View photos of the families at risk.

“This is not about economics or politics. This is about real people facing real hardships if these bills are allowed to become law,” said Nancy Katz. “It’s a slap in the face to take benefits away from the very people who work to build, nurture, protect, educate and serve on behalf of our state. We can’t sit idly by as our state takes away healthcare from hardworking people.”

The bills passed the Senate last week with an amendment intended to exempt universities; however, it is unclear whether universities are actually exempt. The sponsor of the bills, Representative Dave Agema, contends the bills still apply to all public employers, including universities.

“Throughout history, our most celebrated trailblazers have taught us that leadership is about doing the right thing for the right reasons even during tough times,” said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director. “Governor Snyder has an opportunity to set the tone for our state and veto this harmful legislation that is bad for Michigan families and bad for our economy.”

Sponsors of the legislation estimated that benefits through the Michigan Civil Service Commission alone would cost the state well over $8 million, however a recent analysis conducted by the Commission found this figure to be erroneous – only about 100 employees opted in by the September deadline, proving the true cost of these domestic partner benefits was about $600,000.

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