|“Gary Glenn of the American Family Association of Michigan, a backer of the (Marriage Protection Amendment), disagrees. ‘Just because (the plan) may not violate the constitution doesn’t mean it’s good public policy,’ he said. ‘Even in the best of times, taxpayers should not be compelled to subsidize homosexual relationships that many people consider immoral. At a time when local governments are facing a $1.6 billion deficit, forcing taxpayers to subsidize new groups of beneficiaries — and especially a group whose choice of sexual behavior is fraught with a dramatically higher incidence of health hazards including serious life-threatening disease — will only further increase the cost of health care for all citizens.'”
East Lansing set to offer same-sex benefits
by Derek Melot
By next July, the city of East Lansing plans to extend health insurance and other benefits to same-sex partners of city employees, despite the legal restrictions of 2004’s Proposal 2, a state constitutional amendment that barred public recognition of same-sex relationships.
East Lansing will do it by adopting a so-called “Other Eligible Individual” method of designating employee benefits. Already in place at Michigan State University and Ingham County, this method allows qualified employees, principally members of same-sex couples, to designate another adult in the household for benefit coverage.
Proposal 2 defined marriage as between a man and a woman, but also has been determined to bar the extension of benefits to same-sex couples if, by doing so, a same-sex relationship is treated as equal or similar to a marriage. The Michigan Supreme Court turned away a challenge to that interpretation in 2008.
“Our proposed plan … was reviewed by the city’s labor attorney for compliance with all state and federal law,” said Deputy City Manager George Lahanas by e-mail.
Lahanas said city staff had fielded requests from East Lansing employees and members of the City Council to draft up the option. The city’s goal is to implement the expansion on July 1, 2011.
Of the city’s approximately 300 employees, only about 1 percent – three people – are expected to request the new coverage, Lahanas explained. The city estimates an annual cost of $20,000 or less.
“This is a policy change I’ve been working with the city staff on since 2008,” City Councilman Nathan Triplett said. “I’m glad to see that we are finally able to move forward with it. … Residents I talk to are shocked that East Lansing does not already offer this type of benefit to our employees. Simply put, it’s a matter of fundamental fairness and equal pay for equal work.”
MSU began a pilot benefits project in 2007 and made it part of the regular benefits package in July.
The university says 93 people, including dependents, opted for coverage at that time at a cost of $372,000.
Ingham County’s policy dates back to August 2008. Four or five of the county’s 1,000 employees are making use of it, said Jill Rhode, financial services director.
The city of Lansing does not offer an OEI or similar policy, reports the city’s Human Resources Department.
“East Lansing has already made great strides by acknowledging that Other Eligible Individual programs are necessary to a healthy community,” said Emily Dievendorf of the advocacy group Equality Michigan. “There will always be individuals who are bent on blocking progress. East Lansing should anticipate the possibility of a challenge.
“The argument for the policy’s validity is solid and, as it has been tested before, the community should feel confident that it could win the battle if one arises and Equality Michigan will support their effort 100 percent of the way,” Dievendorf added in a statement released last week.
New tax burden
Gary Glenn of the American Family Association of Michigan, a backer of the original Proposal 2, disagrees.
“Just because (the plan) may not violate the constitution doesn’t mean it’s good public policy,” he said. “Even in the best of times, taxpayers should not be compelled to subsidize homosexual relationships that many people consider immoral.
“At a time when local governments are facing a $1.6 billion deficit, forcing taxpayers to subsidize new groups of beneficiaries – and especially a group whose choice of sexual behavior is fraught with a dramatically higher incidence of health hazards including serious life-threatening disease – will only further increase the cost of health care for all citizens.”
Earlier in December, the state Civil Service Commission delayed action on a staff proposal for an OEI-style benefit policy for state employees that would, by one estimate, cost almost $6 million in 2011.