"Domestic Partner" Perks Invalidated in Michigan Universities

The president and the trustees of the University of Kentucky are considering the “Domestics Partner” rip-off regarding benefits for individuals who by law are not eligible for them. In their considerations, they will do well to look at a recent Appeals Court ruling handed down in Michigan, whose citizens by a large margin approved a “marriage protection” amendment to its state Constitution in 2004. The Court, in overturning an opinion of a lower Court, made it clear that neither the University of Michigan nor Michigan State University may provide benefits for employees’ “domestic partners,” individuals to whom they are not married, and that marriage is established only as between a man and a woman. This means that absent a legal marriage document, upon which eligibility for benefits depends, there are no “family” benefits available, either.

The Michigan amendment is similar to the “marriage amendment” approved by the citizens of Kentucky in a landslide margin (75% plurality), also in 2004. According to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, a domestic partner is “either one of an unmarried heterosexual or homosexual cohabiting couple especially when considered as to eligibility for spousal benefits.” On 02 November 2004, Amendment 233A was overwhelmingly approved by the voters and made a part of the Kentucky Constitution: “Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Kentucky. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”

Just as in Michigan, in Kentucky homosexuals may not legally be married to each other, thus the “partners” are not accorded standing accruing to spouses for consideration(s) provided by the state or institutions regulated or supported by it. It would appear that no benefits are available for any individual not legally married to an eligible recipient, or a dependent not having family standing, as in the case of children in either homosexual or heterosexual households/arrangements. The law – actually carrying the weight of the Constitution – seems quite clear. The mantra of those favoring “Domestic Partner” perks has been that the universities, governed by individual boards, can do as they like. In Michigan, that approach didn’t work, and the applicable laws are virtually the same. The individual boards are accountable to the Legislature and therefore accountable to the citizens, who pay the freight and speak through the ballot.

The Michigan Appeals Court tendered the third decision on the matter. The initial ruling by a lower-Court judge was upheld unanimously by the Appeals Court (three judges) after it had been overturned on its first appeal, not unusual since judge-hunting is a common practice for those seeking a specific ruling. If UK goes the route of the University of Louisville and awards “Domestic Partner” benefits, as one or both of the Michigan universities had done, it can face a long legal battle, with the upshot being that the matter will have to be set right eventually and those illegally awarded benefits will be faced with losing the benefits and the university might be faced with having to engage in “payback,” an expensive probability.

The ramifications of awarding “Domestic Partner” benefits at UK would apply to all areas/employees of state government – every entity from the highway department to the school boards. UK is only one of the many state agencies/institutions supported and controlled by the taxpayers, thus, if it can award “Domestic Partner” benefits, such benefits can be awarded across the board. This, obviously, is what the citizens have said they will not tolerate. UK will do well to let the sleeping dog of “Domestic Partner Perquisites” lie and not initiate turmoil that can easily be avoided. The insistence that such perks are necessary to “get the brightest and the best” faculty in an effort to make the institution a “top 20” university is an obvious and smelly red herring, there being no evidence that cohabiting heterosexuals or homosexuals collectively are intellectually superior to faculties anywhere. Indeed, to make such a claim is an insult to current faculty.

From a financial standpoint, it hardly behooves the university to even consider these perks, as proven by the fact that two UK assistant football coaches have just been awarded raises of 61% and 79%, respectively, so they now make $241,245 and $231,245. Assistants! This kind of outrageous prostituting of the educational process (intolerable waste) is unconscionable. Compare their wages to that of an assistant professor (about $40,200 nationally, on average), someone actually a part of the educational endeavor. This is not even to mention the tuition increases that cause students to virtually hock themselves for years paying off student loans.

From a common-sense standpoint, one’s eyes glaze over at contemplating the bureaucracy needed just to keep tabs on who the current (and constantly changing) “domestic partners” are, not to mention the message involved, to wit, that marriage is passé, at least in academia.