Domestic partner benefits approved

State employees will be able to cover one other eligible adult

By Tara Cavanaugh

In a 3-1 vote, the Michigan Civil Service Commission decided Jan. 26 to offer health care benefits to the domestic partners of state employees.

The language offers one "other eligible adult" -- who has lived with the state employee for at least a year, will continue living with that employee, and is not a tenant or hire -- access to state health benefits. The OEA's dependents may also access those benefits, explained Matt Fedorchuk from the MCSC.

State employees negotiated domestic partner benefits in 2004. But that same year, Michigan voted to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. That vote caused the Michigan Supreme Court to decide in 2008 that same-sex partner benefits should not be allowed.

The court made clear in its ruling that language that offered benefits to "domestic partners" sounds too much like marriage, explained Denise-Brogan Kator, a lawyer and executive director of Equality Michigan. But the court also made clear that the ruling does not prohibit employers from offering coverage to another person -- that person just couldn't be called a "domestic partner," she said.

Universities across the state promptly changed their language to keep offering domestic partner benefits, Brogan-Kator said, and the MCSC change is similar.

Fedorchuk said the language will go into effect in October. Now, Snyder has to accommodate the costs in his budget proposal to the state legislature next month. Fedorchuk did not have any estimates for the cost of the extended health coverage.

The state House and Senate may vote to change or get rid of the language that will allow the OEA benefits, but each would have to do so by a two-thirds majority, Fedorchuk said.

The extended benefits are not just a victory for the LGBT community, Brogan-Kator said, "but also for the people of Michigan ... for the people that now can protect their families and protect their children."

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