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Prejudice, Modern Style

Last week two dismaying things happened - one predictable, the other shocking. The predictable one first: the Michigan legislature passed a bill banning the unmarried partner of any public employee from receiving health care benefits, as a spouse normally does.

The bill was sponsored by State Representative Dave Agema, who has never made any secret of his hostility to gay people. Make no mistake about it; this is a gay-bashing bill, though some of those supporting it hypocritically pretend otherwise.

They argued that this is required under a state constitutional amendment that says marriage is limited to men and women. There were even some who said this was necessary to save the cash-strapped state money. But in fact, while nobody has any statistics that I have seen, the amount saved has to be small.

My guess is that this law, if Governor Snyder makes the mistake of signing it, would end up costing the state more money than it would save, because of the lawsuits that are sure to result.

One problem is the state’s public universities. They contend that they have the power to determine their own policies under the Michigan Constitution, and the governor thinks they are right.

But others disagree, especially anti-gay activists, and they are certain to take to the courts. The resulting publicity is sure to be bad for competitiveness in Michigan. Aren‘t we supposed to be trying to attract the best and the brightest to our state? It is worth noting that one of Michigan‘s most respected university presidents is openly gay.

Wayne State’s Allan Gilmour had a highly successful career at Ford Motor Company before turning to academia. Is this the sort of person we can afford to discourage from public service?

It also should be said that not all of those receiving domestic partnership benefits are gay, and that usually, employees pay a hefty premium these days for having anybody covered under their plan.

There’s another element of fundamental hypocrisy in all this, which is that by passing this law, Republicans violated one of their basic principles, which is that state governments shouldn’t meddle in purely local matters. Yet this bill, as the conservative columnist Nolan Finley notes today, prevents local communities and school districts from being able to shape benefit packages for their workers as they see fit.

Those who followed state politics knew this was coming. The other development, however, really was shocking. Lowe‘s, the huge chain of home improvement stores, has pulled their advertising from a TV series called “All-American Muslim,” which runs on TLC. The company offered a muddled non-explanation why.

But there is considerable evidence that they pulled their ads because of pressure from a right-wing outfit called the Florida Family Association. And you won’t believe that group’s problem:

They are upset because the show focuses on Muslims in Dearborn who live normal lives, and not, quote “those Islamic believers who represent a clear and present danger.”

I think the fact that a major corporation caved into this kind of pressure is the only clear and present danger here. Over Christmas I am going to do some renovation work, and in the past, Lowe’s would have been my first stop. Sadly, not any more.