Adam Polaski

Michigan's LGBT Legislative Struggles

Filed By Adam Polaski | July 03, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: anti-bullying, benefits, bullying, Dievendorf, Equality Michigan, health care reform, LGBT, Michigan

MichiganLicensePlate.jpgAll eyes have been on New York in the past two weeks, but it's important that in these next few months, as other states look to build off of New York's marriage equality momentum, other legislative battles are looked at and discussed.

In Michigan, two of those legislative struggles have seen recent developments.

On Wednesday, the Michigan House Education Committee decided to postpone further discussion of an anti-bullying bill, which would ask schools to institute direct policies prohibiting harassment or bullying. Although the bill was moved forward in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the House committee opted to reconvene after the summer to work toward greater progress on the bil.

LGBT advocates, including Equality Michigan, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization, opposed the anti-bullying bill because it did not enumerate, meaning that it didn't spell out specifically which "classes" or categories of people would be explicitly protected. This debate of whether to enumerate has plagued the discussion surrounding the bill for a decade. Advocates would like the policy to include - in addition to race, ethnicity, and religion - sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

Equality Michigan's Director of Policy Emily Dievendorf stated in a press release about the House committee's decision to delay the bill:

We are disappointed to have to oppose House Bill 4163 today but feel that changes can be made to strengthen it so it becomes the powerful tool it is intended to be. We need to require school districts to adopt policies that list protected categories and report incidents of bullying and harassment. We have all been reluctant witnesses to the rash of suicides nationwide as a result of bullying. Michigan has no time to waste in addressing the crisis of bullying in our schools. Our kids need to be assured that their second home, their school, is conducive to learning and is accepting of who they are.

A separate Michigan House committee approved two bills last week that would limit health benefits for public employees only to married couples. The first bill blocks state employers from providing health benefits to people not married to the employee, while the second clarifies that public schools and universities are included in that restriction. Same-sex marriage is not legal or recognized in Michigan, as it was banned in 2004 by Michigan voters in a ballot initiative.

Until now, people have been allowed to receive health benefits from their sex-sex partner who is an employee of the state by a clause that permits "other eligible adults" to access health benefits.

Dievendorf also responded to these bills:

While these benefits are often used by both straight and gay couples, anti-gay lawmakers are specifically trying to deny gay couples the ability to care for their families. Hard-working state employees should be compensated appropriately, and that's why these benefits are offered. [Bill sponsor Dave] Agema's radically biased social agenda is out of touch with Michigan values.

The bills will now go to debate, although a vote is unlikely until after the summer.

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Good luck to Michigan activists, in addressing these important issues! I really hope that the Michigan House does the right thing with all three bills: includes us in the one, and rejects the second and third. Thanks, Adam, for keeping us up-to-date.