For the last 11 years, Michael Todd of
East Lansing and his partner have lived as a married couple. They went
through their own personal ceremony. They exchanged rings. Bought a
house. Been involved in the community. All of that.
So when Todd’s partner, a state
employee, was allowed to put Todd on his health insurance, as part of a
Civil Service Commission decision earlier this year, the couple didn’t
feel guilty doing so.
If the state had allowed them to
formalize their union in a state-recognized ceremony, they would have
done it. And if the opposite sex spouse of a state employee is allowed
to receive state health benefits, why not a same sex spouse?
Unfortunately, Todd is in a position where he needs the help.
The 40-year-old was diagnosed years ago
with multiple sclerosis and now is unable to work. Before being put on
his partner’s benefits, Todd had his health care costs covered by
But under the state’s health plan, the
prescription drug coverage is better, the co-pays are lower and the
benefits, all around, are better.
Todd’s been able to be on the plan starting Oct. 1. Neither he, nor anyone else, knows how long he’ll be able to stay.
He’s aware of HB 4770, which passed the
state House last month 64-44. It would ban the state or any other
public employer from offering benefits to same-sex or opposite-sex
live-in couples who are not married. The bill now sits in the Senate,
where its passage in the Republican-controlled body is likely.
Todd is wishing that Gov. Rick Snyder declines to sign it, but he doesn’t have his hopes up.
"The governor ran on a platform of not dwelling on social issues, which is why he should be vetoing this," Todd said.
Originally, the Republicans pushed a
repeal of the CSC’s decision based on the cost argument. The Snyder
administration claimed extending the benefits would cost the state $6
million. Then the cost estimate inflated to $8 million. Then $10
million — far too much for the cash-strapped state, as the argument
All of these estimates are turning out
to be wildly too high. State Personnel Director Jeremy Stephens told
the CSC last month that preliminary numbers show fewer than 100 people
within the state’s 47,692-member workforce taking advantage of the
benefits for a total cost to the state of $600,000.
Not all live-in partners have a
disabling condition like Todd. But it’s slightly ironic to note that
whether Todd is on his partner’s insurance or on Medicare, the public
is helping him with his health care benefits either way.
The revelation has conservative
Republicans pivoting back to the "constitutional argument," that when
Michigan voters in 2004 opted to define marriage as being between one
man and one woman that this meant public entities couldn’t offer
benefits to the live-in partner of an unmarried public employee.
Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, sponsor
of HB 4770, told the newsletter earlier this year that regardless of
where the final numbers turn at, the ban on same-sex benefits is a
"matter of law," which makes the need for a new law even more of a
Todd isn’t a full-time political activist, but he’s astute enough to see through the flimsy arguments.
"It’s more of a mean-spirited policy they’re just trying to push through," he said.
For as much as Snyder talked during his
State of the State speech about Michigan being more accepting to
immigrants, it’s another piece of irony that the welcome mat is yanked
depending on the sexual orientation of a public employee’s cohabitant.
HB 4770 doesn’t impact the living arrangements for Todd and his partner. They’re going to stay in Michigan either way.
But what about the university professors
or other high-profile talent our universities, schools and cities are
chasing away? At a time when Snyder wants us to reinvent Michigan, why
are the blueprints excluding anybody?
All of the arguments for HB 4770 are
made of straw. The cost numbers don’t add up. The legal argument
doesn’t add up … a new law wouldn’t be needed if it did.
Discriminating against couples based on
their sexual orientation doesn’t make Michigan more competitive
economically because by definition it repels, not invites, more people.
Gays and lesbians happen to be the tolerably discriminated-against
class of our times, like blacks, women, Jews, Irish, American Indians,
disabled and others before them.
Reasons to support 4770 seem to be
drifting away with the autumn breeze. But that doesn’t seem to matter
in today’s conservative environment, which is why Todd is hoping his
new benefits doesn’t blow away, too.