Domestic partner benefit penalty stripped from state budget

Courtesy of

Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville

Courtesy of Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville

Samantha Butcher

As the state budget debates dwindle and lawmakers approach a decision, a provision that would penalize public universities for offering same-sex partner health benefits has been dropped from the higher education budget.

The proposal, which was introduced by State Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville), would have cut an additional 5 percent in funding from colleges and universities such as Grand Valley State University that offer domestic partner health benefits to their employees. Michael Gadola, Gov. Rick Snyder’s legal counsel, called the budgetary measure “unconstitutional” and “unenforceable.”

The cut was included in the House budget, but not the Senate version. It was stripped when a joint committee met to reconcile the two budget drafts.

“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,” said Colette Seguin Beighley, director of the LGBT Resource Center at GVSU.

Currently, 14 of Michigan’s 15 public universities offer domestic partners and unmarried couples health benefits, including GVSU.

To qualify for benefits at GVSU, household members must have resided with the employee for 18 consecutive months and must not be a relative or a tenant of the employee.

Seguin Beighley said those health benefits are an important part of GVSU’s commitment to inclusion.

“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,” she said.

Agema and his supporters argue that these benefits violate the 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Michigan, as well as a 2008 Michigan Supreme Court ruling that excluded public employers from extending benefits to same-sex partners.

“My same sex benefit penalty for colleges breaking the law was stripped from the Highier Ed. [sic] budget with a promise for a bill to do it in the near future,” Agema wrote in a Facebook status update on Sunday.

GVSU’s household member plan was enacted in September 2008 as part of a three-year pilot program. According to the university website, it is intended 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.”

GVSU first announced that it would explore domestic partner benefits in 2000 but did not begin offering them until 2008.

“… I suspect that domestic partner benefits are inevitable,” then-President Arend Lubbers said in a statement in 2000. “But that time is not now.”

Michigan’s public universities face a 15-percent budget cut for the 2011-2012 academic year. Currently, GVSU receives the lowest per-student appropriations in the state.

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