No, you do it

A Detroit City Council resolution asking Mayor Dennis Archer to arrange spousal benefits for unmarried partners of city employees by 1999 remains at an impasse.

Archer spokesperson Anthony Neely says the mayor is still waiting for council members to pass an ordinance extending the benefits, as opposed to the nonbinding measure they passed in April asking the mayor to extend them.

"Since the council did the hard work necessary to develop the resolution, (the mayor) would expect them to come back with an ordinance if they think that’s in the best interest of the city," Neely told the Metro Times late last month.

Because same-sex marriage is illegal, partner policies are the only way gays and lesbians can receive the equivalent of spousal benefits. Some companies and government entities have extended benefits to their employees’ same-sex or opposite-sex unmarried partners in recent years. However, some conservatives are also trying to stop the spread of benefits.

State Sen. Bill Schuette, R-Midland, is pushing legislation prohibiting employees of state-funded entities from receiving domestic partner benefits. That legislation evolved from an earlier Schuette effort to target the extension of such benefits at Wayne State University, the University of Michigan and other institutions. The attorney general ruled that public colleges and universities could be barred from extending the benefits only if there was a law against it for all employees of entities receiving state funds.

This year the bill passed the Senate but died in a House committee. Phil Ginotti, Schuette’s assistant, says Schuette is expected to reintroduce the bill this year.

Ginotti says the senator wants to stop the use of taxes to support benefits for unmarried partners because their bond isn’t legally recognized.

Meanwhile, language in the 1998-1999 community college budget bars use of any of the $282 million for domestic partner benefits, with the exceptions of pre- and post-natal costs. The language was introduced on the House floor by state Rep. Mark Jansen, R-Grand Rapids.

The attorney general ruled that the state’s 28 community colleges could be kept from using state funds for unmarried partner benefits because they have less autonomy than colleges and universities under the state constitution.

The language made it past the press radar screen and slipped by prominent gay advocates.

"It was the simplest anti-gay measure they could pass without a lot of publicity," says Sean Kosofsky, associate director of policy for the Detroit-based Triangle Foundation.

Kosofsky says no community college in Michigan extends benefits to domestic partners, but the language is both a symbolic gesture and a first-tier attack on domestic partner benefits.

"They’re going to say, well we already did this with the community colleges," Kosofsky says.

Michigan Rep. Hubert Price, D-Pontiac, says he disagrees with the restriction to the community college budget, but he voted to pass it, reasoning that community colleges can provide the benefits using other funds.

"I believe every American should have health care irrespective of their economic lot or their domestic situation," Price says.

Detroit officials say the council’s resolution — that unmarried city employees be allowed spousal benefits for either a same- or opposite-sex domestic partner or a qualifying household adult, such as a grandparent — isn’t about gay rights because it also affects heterosexuals. But so far, neither the council nor the mayor has been willing to take responsibility for extending the benefits, arousing suspicions that officials fear fallout from the religious community.

"It could be as simple as some kind of political badminton between the two bodies," says Jeff Montgomery, executive director of Triangle Foundation, an advocacy group for the gay and lesbian community. "Or they’re uncomfortable with the whole idea. I really hope that isn’t the answer."

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