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The continued attack against domestic partner benefits in Michigan

May 18, 2011

Recently the Michigan House of Representatives passed legislation that would reduce funding for public universities if those universities provide domestic partner benefits.

House Bill 4325 passed with 57 votes in favor and 53 against with the Republican majority determining the outcome. This vote was part of a larger public education funding piece, but area Rep. Dave Agema added an amendment that would punish universities who provided domestic partner benefits.

In a recent Media Release Agema stated:

“Public universities are thumbing their noses at the rule of law because of their special constitutional privilege dictating that we can’t tell them how to spend the money we appropriate to them. We can, however, not give them that money in the first place if they disregard the law, which is what this amendment does.  It then uses the money from the universities that refused to change their policy and places it into the K-12 public schools retirement coffers to help eliminate the shortfall there.  This could be worth up to $60 million to schools.”

According to a story in the Lansing City Pulse, Fourteen of the state’s 15 public universities have introduced some form of same-sex benefits since voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 that banned domestic-partner benefits. The schools’ policies sidestep the ban by offering the benefits to other members of employees’ households.”

GVSU is one of those fourteen public universities in Michigan that offers domestic partner benefits. “Grand Valley offers Household Member Benefits in order to support the recruitment and retention efforts of the University in an effort to keep us competitive with other public universities who already offer similar benefits to their faculty and staff,” according to the university website.

The Director of the LGBT Resource Center at Grand Valley, Colette Seguin Beighley, responded to this decision in Lansing by stating, “Obviously, we are disappointed in the decision of the Michigan House to penalize the budgets of universities offering domestic partner benefits. Grand Valley has worked and continues to work hard to create a campus community that is welcoming for all students, faculty and staff including members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. This budget penalty is a step backward for Michigan and will not help our ability to recruit and retain talent in our already hurting state.”

This is not the first time that Rep. Agema has taken such a strong anti-gay position as a legislator. According to State Rep. Jeff Irwin, “It was a complete surprise to me when Rep. Agema stood up and made this speech about punishing universities for violating our moral code as a state. He did raise the issue of morality specifically, and he did use the word ‘punish’ specifically.”

Agema has not been shy about his stance on this issue and has repeatedly posted comments on Facebook that reflect his anti-gay ideology. In one recent exchange with someone on Facebook he was asked why he would support government dictating who can marry who, especially since Agema claims to be a big proponent of smaller government that should meddle in people’s lives. Agema responded by saying, “It’s against natures laws, mans laws and God’s laws. Without a male and female the society dies in one generation….think about it!” Indeed, we should all think about what it means to have people like Dave Agema determining public policy.

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