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EASTERN ECHO: Conservative group aims at EMU's same-sex benefits

February 25, 2005

EMU president threatens “cease-and-desist” letter to AFA-Michigan

“‘By vote of the people of Michigan, our state government – and that includes state university officials – are required to recognize marriage as being only between one man and one woman,’ (American Family Association of Michigan President Gary) Glenn wrote in a statement released Wednesday to (Attorney General Mike) Cox. ‘Conversely, government employers are prohibited from recognizing or treating homosexual relationships as equal or similar to marriage, which is clearly the intent and effect of EMU’s unconstitutional policy.’

Eastern Michigan University Interim President Craig Dean Willis (said) Thursday night that he stands behind the university’s policy. He said the university is preparing to send a cease-and-desist letter to Glenn, asking him to stop what Willis described as inaccurate statements about EMU’s same-sex domestic partner policy.

…’If (students involved in a homosexual relationship with an Eastern Michigan University employee) get half off tuition, somebody has to make up the difference, and that’s taxpayers, many of whom have sincerely held religious or other convictions that homosexual behavior and homosexual relationships are wrong,’ Glenn said.”

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Click image to enlarge.EASTERN ECHO
Eastern Michigan University
Ypsilanti, Michigan
February 25, 2005

Conservative group aims at EMU’s same-sex benefits

Willis: School stands behind allowances

by Nathan Bomey, News Editor

A prominent conservative activist denounced Eastern Michigan’s policy regarding same-sex domestic partner benefits in a statement delivered Wednesday to Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox.

Gary Glenn, the president of the American Family Association of Michigan, said EMU’s same-sex domestic partner policy violates the state’s constitution. He said Michigan voters’ approval of Proposal 2 – which amended the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman – makes EMU’s policy unconstitutional.

Glenn asked Cox to consider forcing EMU to stop offering same-sex domestic partner benefits. He is specifically targeting what he referred to as EMU’s “new expansion of a half-off tuition break for students involved in homosexual relationships with university employees.�

“By vote of the people of Michigan, our state government – and that includes state university officials – are required to recognize marriage as being only between one man and one woman,� Glenn wrote in a statement released Wednesday to Cox. “Conversely, government employers are prohibited from recognizing or treating homosexual relationships as equal or similar to marriage, which is clearly the intent and effect of EMU’s unconstitutional policy.�

EMU Interim President Craig Dean Willis told the Echo on Thursday night that he stands behind the university’s policy. He said the university is preparing to send a cease-and-desist letter to Glenn, asking him to stop what Willis described as inaccurate statements about EMU’s same-sex domestic partner policy.

“I’m concerned that he is passing along information to people that we give half tuition off to people that engage in homosexual acts,� Willis said.

Howard Bunsis, the director of EMU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, told the Echo that the AAUP stands behind the university’s same-sex domestic partner benefits policy.

“The AAUP of Eastern Michigan strongly believes that domestic partner benefits are an important component of our contract here,� Bunsis said. “We bargained very hard for these benefits and we believe they’re incredibly important to our members.�

The AAUP is considering filing a friend-of-the-court brief in a court case involving a lawsuit filed against the Ann Arbor Public Schools that seeks the termination of same-sex domestic partner benefits offered to teachers.

Bunsis said the AAUP plans to use its legal resources to defend the policy, if necessary.

“If Eastern Michigan University’s benefits are being questioned by an outside party, we will also vigorously defend them,� Bunsis said. “We believe that these benefits are very important.�

Glenn told the Echo on Thursday that the state constitution prohibits EMU from offering a 50 percent tuition reduction to same-sex partners of university employees.

“We want Attorney General Cox to know about this particular configuration of benefits provided to partners of homosexual employees,� Glenn said. “Taxpayers who are opposed to this kind of thing in general – they find this particular type of incentive to a homosexual relationship is particularly galling.

“Half-off tuition just because you’re involved in a homosexual relationship with an EMU employee – most taxpayers I’ve talked to believe that to be an abuse of their tax dollars.�

The central question in dispute is whether state institutions like EMU are constitutionally required to stop offering same-sex domestic partner benefits now that the state constitution has been amended.

EMU’s same-sex domestic partner benefits policy includes a half-off tuition break for the partners of faculty members, administrators, athletic coaches, confidential clerical workers, other clerical secretaries and professional technology employees, said Jeanette Hassan, the director of EMU’s benefits program in the human resources office.

That policy applies to 14 university employees who have partners covered under the policy, Hassan said. The policy costs EMU about $2,000 per partner, according to the university.

“If you get half off tuition somebody has to make up the difference, and that’s taxpayers, many of whom have sincerely held religious or other convictions that homosexual behavior and homosexual relationships are wrong,� Glenn said.

All EMU employees, except police sergeants, are eligible for same-sex domestic partner health care benefits, Hassan said.

Greg Varnum, the director of EMU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center, could not be reached for comment. But he told the Echo after the November election that Proposal 2 advocates reneged on a promise not to target same-sex domestic partner benefits.

“They’re going after employees whether they are commercial or private, even though they said they wouldn’t,� he said.

In November, the EMU Board of Regents approved a policy that provided the 50 percent tuition deal to same-sex domestic partners of “non-bargained for� employees, including administrators and coaches. A range of other employees, including faculty members, were already eligible for that benefit.

Kenneth McKanders, EMU’s legal counsel, was not available for comment Thursday afternoon. But in a press release distributed Nov. 30 he described the policy as a minor revision.

“Historically, EMU has given non-bargained for employees the same benefits as those negotiated by employees represented by bargaining units,� said McKanders. “The adoption of this change eliminates the discrepancy that presently exists between the non-bargained for employees and employees represented by bargaining units.�

The university requires same-sex domestic partners to have municipal certification of their relationship and to demonstrate joint ownership.

“They have to substantiate the relationship,� Hassan said.

The policy dispute comes several months after gay rights activists expressed concern that the passage of Proposal 2 would affect same-sex domestic partner benefits at state institutions like EMU. It appears likely that the issue will eventually end up in the court system, although the specific parties that would be involved in such a dispute remains unclear.

Willis declined to speculate on whether EMU would get involved in a legal dispute, saying that is “down the road.�

Allison Pierce, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, was unavailable for comment Thursday afternoon.

http://www.easternecho.com/cgi-bin/story.cgi?1955

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