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Michigan city drops partner benefits, citing marriage amendment

The city of Kalamazoo has decided to strip health benefits from domestic partners of municipal employees. We all knew this kind of fallout was coming if marriage amendments passed in states around the country, and now Michigan is providing a stark look at what is likely to come. (365gay):

City Manager Kenneth Collard cited a decision last month by the Michigan supreme Court.

The high court agreed to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that said the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage blocks the state, local governments and public institutions from providing benefits to the same-sex partners of employees.

In granting leave to appeal the court said that the lower court’s order cannot be held up.

Four Kalamazoo gay city workers have their families covered under the benefits plan.  Civil rights activists say they believe other cities and state funded universities that offer domestic partner benefits will follow suit.

The state amendment defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman and any other arrangement “or similar union for any purpose” will not be recognized. This specific language is meant to hurt gays and lesbians, not “protect marriage.”

As these amendments passed, valiant efforts were made at the grassroots level to fight them off, but there was silence at the national level, even capitulation as a “leave it to the states” attitude prevailed. Civil rights were allowed to be determined at the ballot box, and ambitious pols threw gays and lesbians in vulnerable states to the wolves of the fear-mongering right.

The bleeding will continue in Michigan as the University of Michigan and Wayne State University have been directed by the court to shut down their benefits programs currently offered to gay and lesbian couples.

Presidential candidates — is this kind of discrimination a matter of states’ rights or civil rights? We’d like to know.

It’s critical, particularly since Hillary Clinton for example, while endorsing the repeal of the portion of DOMA that bans federal recognition of same-sex relationships in states where marriage equality (or CUs, or DPs) exists — still believes that states should decide which civil rights their taxpaying residents are entitled to.

In the meantime, states will have to make a decision about whether they want to portray themselves as welcoming of diversity, or as an arm of the religious right. The best and the brightest will look elsewhere when job hunting; LGBT residents will migrate to friendlier environs (taking their tax dollars with them), and large companies that count on and appreciate diversity will look elsewhere to do business and set up shop. It’s not only the fundamentalists that get to make decisions about a state’s economic fate.

* The rights rollback continues in Michigan

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding