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Professors Upset Over Bill to Ban Partner Benefits

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Professors at the University of Michigan predict there will be resignations if state lawmakers ban health insurance for domestic partners of public employees.

At least seven have signed a letter, asking Gov. Rick Snyder not to sign House Bill 4770 into law if it is passed by the Senate. A university official, meanwhile, said the benefits are important for recruiting and keeping top faculty.

Andries Coetzee, who moved to Ann Arbor from South Africa 10 years ago, told that Michigan is “moving in the opposite direction” of other states. The linguistics professor said he’s already looking for a new job.

“I question my decision to come to Michigan,” said Coetzee, who turned down an offer at the same time from New York University. “I chose Michigan because it just seemed better. But now New York just made same sex marriage legal and now in Michigan, they want people like my partner to not get treated.”

Coetzee said health insurance has helped his partner of seven years, Gary Woodall, whose cancer is in remission.

Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, said taxpayers should not pay for the benefits, whether domestic partners are same sex or male and female.

“Providing benefits in this way is not the role of the state, especially when tax dollars are in short supply and there are critical programs being affected by the decrease in revenue,” Agema said.

The university is concerned about eliminating benefits.

“We’re in competition on a lot of levels. This would be an added competitive disadvantage,” said Cynthia Wilbanks, the school’s vice president of government relations.

 U-M Latin professor Sara Ahbel-Rappe predicts an exodus of professors if the bill becomes law.

“It’s a total slap in the face. It tells me that I don’t deserve the same consideration” as married heterosexual couples, Ahbel-Rappe said.

Critics of the legislation think the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University still might be able to offer benefits because the schools are run by elected, independent boards.

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