Prop 2 Supporters Should Keep Word on Allowing Partner Benefits

POST BY Jay Kaplan LGBT Legal Project Staff Attorney
November 18, 2004

This is a sad time in Michigan's legal history. On Nov. 2, a majority of voters approved an amendment to Michigan's constitution. The language, "Only the union between one man and one woman in marriage shall be recognized as marriage or similar union for any purpose" seemed simple, but it isn't.

For those concerned with keeping gay people from marrying, this state already had a law prohibiting same-sex marriage. The ballot initiative was thus unnecessary.

But, as we argued before the election, its passage could do even more. What is unclear is how the amendment's last six words, "or similar union for any purpose," will be interpreted.

Will that language also prohibit domestic partner benefits, including health insurance?

Proponents of Proposal 2, in public statements throughout the campaign, emphatically stated that this amendment was simply about marriage.

Marlene Elwell, chair of Citizens for Protection of Marriage, was quoted as stating, "This has nothing to do with taking benefits away. This is about marriage between a man and a woman."

Spokesperson Kristina Hemphill said, "There's nothing in this amendment ... that will erase anything on the books."

Even Gary Glenn, of the American Family Association of Michigan, was quoted as saying, "the proposal will not affect benefits offered to people living together or in same-sex relationships."

What is frightening is the ambiguity of those six words. Not surprisingly, the day after the election, Glenn contradicted his previous statement.

If these words are broadly interpreted by Michigan courts, both heterosexual and same-sex couples (and their children) could lose important health care benefits they currently receive from their employers.

The so-called "morals" issue that has been so touted these last few weeks as having determined the election rings false to our ears. We know people across the political spectrum care deeply about children—that they have enough to eat, that they can receive medical care when they need it, and that they benefit from living within loving, committed family relationships.

We can't believe Proposal 2 supporters would take any other position. Yet, lost in the debate about this ballot initiative have been the real people who stand to lose from its passage.

We know from the people who call us for help that they stand to lose a great deal. For example, one same-sex couple we know—Dennis and Tom Patrick—are the parents of three children. Tom works part-time so he can take care of Josh, who is developmentally disabled. Dennis works for a state university that provides domestic partner insurance coverage for their family. Should the university discontinue insurance coverage for Tom, he will need to work full-time and spend less time home caring for his child.

Another couple has been in a committed relationship for four years. One is pregnant and the two women are expecting twins in March. One of the women hopes to leave her job and stay at home to care for the twins.

The other partner's employer provides domestic partner health care coverage, which means that they can do this. But besides their child care issues, the pregnant mother has been diagnosed with diabetes, which involves costly monthly treatment.

If her partner's health insurance is taken away, the whole family may be in jeopardy.

We will hold Marlene Elwell, Gary Glenn and Kristine Hemphill to their words. Should there be any attempts to take away domestic partner benefits from employees and their families, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan will work aggressively to contain the potential damage of this amendment.

Michigan is a state that has always recognized and supported diversity and an environment that welcomes all those who seek to live here. We cannot allow those six confusing words to change that.

Lost in the debate about (Proposal 2) have been the real people who stand to lose from its passage.

By Jay Kaplan and Kary L. Moss/Special to The Detroit News

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