Friday, February 2, 2007

The state of equality

The latest news from the culture wars isn't a good one for either equality or freedom, really. Today, the Michigan State Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 that public universities and governmental agencies may not provide domestic partnership benefits to their employees, in response to the 2004 MI state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman and outlaws recognition of any "similar union for any purpose".

Now, I must admit that I'm unhappy with that amendment. I think it's wrong and contrary to common sense and the real spirit of equality. I do, however, at least respect those who felt strongly enough about it to amend the state constitution, rather than trying to pass a law stating that certain laws aren't subject to the constitution. Process does matter to me.

However, this is taking things to an extreme version. Note that the ruling is that public organizations aren't allowed to offer such benefits, not that they aren't required to do so. Further, as is quoted from the article:
Ingham County Circuit Judge Joyce Draganchuk previously had ruled that criteria established by employers to qualify for same-sex benefits don't recognize a "union" because Michigan doesn't allow civil unions.

"Employer-defined criteria for the receipt of health care benefits cannot create a union where one does not exist," Draganchuk said.

In any event, this is going to cause some problems down the road for the large public universities in Michigan. Academia in general is a relatively liberal environment, and many institutions advertise their domestic partnership benefits accordingly. I know that, for example, my health insurance would be extendable to a domestic partner I registered with the university. Or, at least, it would have been prior to this ruling (and, of course, if I had a domestic partner, which I don't).

For the moment, let's leave aside the issue of how preventing homosexual unions in any way protects straight marriage. This is just a bad idea. Institutions of higher education are being prohibited from offering benefits they have already been offering to entice the students and faculty members they're seeking. For a state trying to transition from a manufacturing economy and in which the universities best known across the country are public ones, this is an idiotic move. There will be savings in the short term, as less money will be spent on offering health care. But the costs, should this ruling stand, will add up massively over the long-haul as the universities slip in their prestige.

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