Michigan Governor Rick Snyder on Thursday signed H.B. 4770, a bill that eliminates healthcare coverage for domestic partners of public employees.
Republican lawmakers said the bill was necessary to prevent tax payers’ money being spent on benefits for lodgers and house mates rather than spouses. However, LGBT rights groups have offered that this is only a thinly veiled attack on same-sex partnerships.
The measure does apply to municipal and school employees, and to homosexual and heterosexual couples alike. It was primarily aimed at ending the practice of providing benefits to same-sex couples, which was adopted by a handful of cities, schools and most of the state’s public universities after the adoption of the state’s one-man, one-woman marriage amendment in 2004.
Snyder had been under pressure from gay rights activists and others to veto the bill.
But lead sponsor Rep. David Agema, R-Grandville, praised the governor’s decision, saying, “Time and again, Michigan residents have said ‘no’ to paying for the health benefits of the roommates and unmarried partners of public employees, and the governor’s signature today gives the people’s voice the rule of law.”
The ACLU, calling the legislation “mean-spirited,” has promised a lawsuit. Kary L. Moss, the ACLU of Michigan executive director, said in a news release:
“The decision to take healthcare benefits away from families just in time for the holidays is mean-spirited and cruel. Governor Snyder had an opportunity to show real leadership and put an end to the political games; instead he approved an extreme policy that sets our state back, jeopardizes our economy and puts our families at risk. The bill serves no other purpose than to single out a small minority of people and deprive them of critical protections as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. We are prepared to challenge this law on behalf of Michigan families in the coming weeks.”
House Bill 4770 passed the state House in September and the Senate early in December. Governor Snyder signed the bill on Thursday but vetoed a separate bill, HB 4771, that would have made domestic partner protections a forbidden subject in collective bargaining agreements.
Both bills were introduced to counteract a Michigan Civil Service Commission decision to ratify a collective bargaining agreement that allowed state employees to share health care benefits with another “eligible adult.”
Due to a concession by Republicans in the state legislature the law should not prevent universities from providing domestic partner benefits, but concern remains that the legislation will undermine the state’s competitiveness.
Michigan’s lawmakers have been heavily criticized for their anti-LGBT stance, including over separate anti-bullying legislation that, critics said, allowed children to bully so long as it was done in the name of their religion.