LGBT community deserves partner benefits

Lucy Hough

Guest Column

Michigan is the worst state in the nation to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) or to be in a same-sex relationship. Our legislature is making it even harder with a bill that is set to eventually be voted on by the state Senate.

It has already been passed by the state Souse and is likely to be passed by the Republican controlled Senate and the governor. This bill, HB 4770, would prohibit all public institutions, including universities like Northern, from providing benefits to same sex couples. The included bill, HB 4771, makes it so that unions in these institutions do not have any bargaining rights about this matter.

This kind of strict legislature against LGBT people is unprecedented. It branches off of the 2004 amendment that states that same-sex relationships will not be recognized in any form: marriages, civil unions, etc. Now the people who represent us are making it so that same sex couples have nothing. But the bill hasn’t been passed yet, and we can step in before it goes too far by contacting our state senator and asking them to please stop this bill before it becomes a law.

I’m not sure anyone knew that our state legislature and Supreme Court would take the 2004 amendment this far. This amendment has been interpreted in its most literal sense. In 2007, the Michigan Court of Appeals said that the amendment also applied to benefits, meaning public institutions like NMU had to remove all language, in this case for benefits, which recognized same-sex partnerships.

Instead, Northern created a program called the “Household Member Program,” which finagles the law so these benefits are available on a basic level. This meant these benefits would be allowed for people living in the same house for over a year who weren’t family members, weren’t tenants and some other requirements. It was equally available to same-sex and opposite-sex partners.

Big, bad HB 4770 and 4771 would make it so that these benefits are illegal too. If the bill is passed, Northern and all other public organizations would have to terminate these benefits. Republicans say it is an issue of too much money because it’s available, technically, for everyone. Their first estimate was that it would cost the state up to $20 million dollars. That’s a lot of money to provide benefits for people who are, according to many Republicans, undeserving. However, the statewide commission that would give out the benefits reported that it would cost the state only $600,000. That’s quite a difference, and compared to a $43 billion state budget, $600,000 is a small cost to provide benefits to a group of individuals who, in some cases, are in committed relationships.

When the revised amount was presented to Republicans, they doubled back and said that their reasoning for supporting HB 4770 and 4771 was that it was upholding what citizens voted for in 2004 with the state amendment. If our representatives spent this much time nitpicking the budget, I’m pretty sure our state wouldn’t be in such bad economic shape.

Regardless, our legislature is making choices for us that say that same-sex couples in the state of Michigan don’t deserve a shred of dignity. As if it wasn’t bad enough that they aren’t allowed pseudo-benefits, if this bill passes, same-sex couples wouldn’t have anything. Our state legislature can only take so much from a person before they decide that the lack of respect is not worth it and move out of the state. Northern, and other institutions that might genuinely want to provide for their LGBT employees, will no longer be able to provide anything.

To promote maturity, understanding and acceptance, Michigan citizens can contact their state legislators to ask them to vote against HB 4770 and 4771. All you have to do is go to and click on “Find your senator.” We should offer our opinions to encourage the Michigan legislature to rethink its blatant and continuous disrespect for LGBT people.