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22 March 2005
Editorial by LSJ's Jon Schneider

Jon does a very nice job putting a human face on a public issue:

Meet two faces behind Proposal 2 and state Attorney General Mike Cox's subsequent ruling that same-sex benefits are unconstitutional:

Sally Burns and Karen Quinn of Lansing.

Burns is 49; Quinn, 52. They've been a couple for 17 years.

Quinn has ovarian cancer. Between the disease and the chemotherapy, she's too sick to hold down a job. But Burns works for Michigan State University, which offers health insurance to the same-sex partners of university employees.

Because of that, Quinn gets the health care she needs. For the moment, anyway.

Proposal 2, approved in November by Michigan voters, wasn't supposed to interfere with that.

Remember? Its job was to "protect marriage." It had nothing to do with taking away anybody's benefits. That's what its supporters said - again and again. Live and let live.

Different story

Now comes the state's chief law enforcer ruling that Proposal 2, sold to voters as a narrow ban on gay marriage, has EVERYTHING to do with the loss of benefits.

Under Proposal 2, the state and local governments, Cox said flatly, CANNOT extend benefits, like health insurance, to the partners of employees.

The ruling won't trump existing labor contracts, but would take effect when they expire. The courts could ultimately overrule Cox.

MSU, like other universities, claims its autonomous status under the state constitution gives it immunity from Proposal 2. But that claim has not been tested.

Meanwhile, not everybody is dismayed by the difference between how Proposal 2 was sold and what it has wrought.

In a recent State Journal story, Gary Glenn of the American Family Association of Michigan, said he was pleased with the ruling:

"The chief law enforcement officer is now on the record that a public employer cannot formally recognize and treat homosexual relationships among its employees as being similar or equal to marriage."

Unintended result

Burns doesn't believe that the 59 percent of Michigan voters who approved Proposal 2 truly intended to yank anybody's health insurance.

"I don't think people are that nasty," she said. "I think many of them just didn't know what they were doing."

Quinn's ovarian cancer was diagnosed in July 2001. She underwent chemotherapy, and the cancer went into remission for about a year. It returned in 2003. When she could no longer work, she lost her health insurance.

Both Burns and Quinn feel lucky to have the benefits MSU provides. Aside from the coverage of medical expenses, the women are grateful that Burns can, as part of her benefits, take time off to help care for Quinn.

Burns and Quinn are OK for the immediate future. But the implications of Cox's ruling disturb them. In an e-mail to me, Burns wrote:

"I don't get those who, in the name of morality, want to take health insurance from someone who has cancer.

"If they think gays will rot in hell because of whom they love, what will happen to those who are mean-spirited?"

Burns added: "We really don't need the stress of having to fight for health care benefits while we fight for Karen's life."

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