Monday, March 12, 2007

Gay Bar in Gay, Michigan

When you read that, what did you think? What was your reaction?

Well, there is a Gay in Michigan on the gorgeous Keweenaw Peninsula. And its sole business establishment is The Gay Bar. But it's not a gay bar, per se. (The small town and its bar are named for Joseph E. Gay, a mining company director there at the turn of the last century.) According to Bruce Fountain, who owns the place with his wife, Christine, it is "a long ways from any town" but three roads meet at the location of the bar. He says the place is the local watering hole, the local restaurant and the gas station.

Bruce says they are open to anyone who stops in. They have a view of Lake Superior, a decent beer selection and a menu with munchies, pizza, hot dogs, and more. I asked Bruce if he was aware of the issues and dispute involving same-sex benefits at public institutions in our state. He wasn't. When I asked him for his thoughts on the current state economy, he replied that he just wants to see everyone prosper.

Such a fundamental principle--how could anyone disagree with that? According to the latest census figures, Michigan has some 15,200 same-sex couples. Probably, these people would agree with such a sentiment for the economic well-being of Michigan. And certainly, people who voted for the marriage amendment to the Michigan Constitution could say the same thing.

Yet the wedge politics of 2004 continue to play out in real lives of Michigan citizens. On February 2 the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the marriage amendment "prohibits public employers from recognizing same-sex unions for any purpose," including the provision of employee health benefits. According to a letter from Laurita Thomas, Associate Vice President for Human Resources at University of Michigan, "the law allows us to honor our commitments to provide agreed-upon benefits through the end of the calendar year, or through the end of the current contract for bargained-for employee groups." That's all folks.

Some of Michigan's 15,200 gay and lesbian couples accounted for in the latest census are raising children. Many of them have configured their health insurance in ways similar to other families: one parent's benefits provide coverage for the family. These families will have to find other ways to provide what public employers cannot.

If any of these gay people went to the not-gay Gay Bar in Gay, Michigan, they would be welcomed and served, no questions asked. Too bad our most esteemed public institutions are now legally prohibited from doing the same.