James Esseks,
Director, LGBTQ & HIV Project,
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January 5, 2012

Sometimes people do something that’s so mean-spirited that it brings you up short. That was my reaction when I first heard that Michigan legislators were considering a law that would bar cities and counties from providing health care insurance to the domestic partners of their employees. But despite the ACLU’s best efforts, the state legislature passed that measure and the governor signed it during the Christmas holidays. So today, we sued ‘em.

The new law is called the Public Employee Domestic Partner Benefit Restriction Act, and it does just what its title suggests — it bars gay employees’ partners from health care coverage. And here’s the kicker — the law allows city and county employers to provide health care coverage to just about all other family members — uncles, nieces, even cousins. Ours are the only family members that are excluded.

Fifteen or twenty years ago, a law like this might have been unremarkable. But today, against a backdrop of national polls showing close to 80 percent support for LGBT-related workplace fairness laws and over 50 percent support for marriage for same-sex couples, Michigan’s spanking new Domestic Partner Benefit Restriction Act stands out as out-of-step and just plain mean.

How mean? Consider this: plaintiffs JoLinda Jach and Barbara Ramber (pictured above) have been together 17 years. JoLinda works for the City of Kalamazoo, MI, and has provided Barbara health care through the city’s insurance plan. Last year, Barbara was hit in her left eye by a baseball, which has permanently damaged her eyesight and resulted in glaucoma. She now needs to take medications daily to prevent going blind, medications that Michigan’s new law says she can’t get through JoLinda’s city job. With her eye problems, getting private insurance would be prohibitively expensive, to the extent it’s even available.

With this lawsuit, we’ll keep working to save Barbara’s eyesight and for fairer workplace laws in Michigan.

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