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Benefits for Workers’ Same-Sex Partners

by Kate Childs Graham  |  February 24, 2012

Michigan has been in the news plenty in recent days. A battleground state, Mitt Romney’s home state, it seems that all eyes are on Michigan, its unions and its governor, Rick Snyder.

In a scramble to fix economic problems brought on by Wall Street greed, Governor Snyder has made a series of decisions that hurt working families. He has decreased tax benefits for the working poor. He has hiked up health care costs for public workers. He has instituted the Dictator Law.  

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) working families have taken an extra hit.  House Bill 4770, signed into law last December, bans public institutions in Michigan from offering benefits to domestic partners. Now, the three local school districts, and five city and county governments, including the City of Detroit, which once provided domestic partner benefits for public employees, can no longer offer these benefits.

Susan Ryan, a sewage plant operator for the City of Detroit, told her story, “My partner nearly died of adult-onset Type 1 Diabetes in 2005. She was getting increasingly sicker. My doctor wouldn’t see her without health insurance…One morning I had to call an ambulance because she was in respiratory failure…It’s really a difficult time.”

The contrast between Snyder’s bill and the regulations President Obama is finalizing is staggering. Under these new regulations, federal workers with same-sex partners would gain a host of benefits, including child care subsidies for the children of a same-sex partner, retirement benefits for same-sex partners and evacuation pay to cover a worker’s same-sex partner in the event of an emergency.

The administration has also voiced its support for the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, legislation that would afford same-sex partners full benefits including health benefits which are not included in the regulations. However, with a Republican-controlled House, it is unlikely that this legislation, which has been around since 1997, will pass this year. That’s why the administration is determined to do what it can through regulation.

As all eyes continue to focus on Michigan through primary season and beyond, the tales of House Bill 4770 and the administration’s new regulations should be remembered. One seeks to expand benefits for LGBT workers, the other stamps them out. 

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