The Virginia legislature has voted to repeal the state’s law, the only one of its kind in the nation, prohibiting insurance companies from offering coverage of domestic partners as part of employer-provided health plans (see May 31, 2004, next-to-last paragraph). Gov. Mark Warner (D) has announced his intent to sign the bill. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce backed the repeal, citing principles of economic liberty: “If you believe in a free market, then restrictions like this don’t make any sense,” said Chamber vice president for public policy Stephen D. Haner. The repeal was strenuously opposed, however, by Religious Right figures such as Del. Robert Marshall (R-Manassas), and passed the House of Delegates by only a 49-48 margin (Pamela Stallsmith, “House backs letting firms extend health benefits”, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Feb. 25; Lou Chibbaro, Jr., “Va. DP ban repealed by 1 vote”, Washington Blade, Mar. 4; Tim Hulsey, Feb. 25).
On a related topic, last November Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment providing that “the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose” (see Nov. 2). At the time, opponents argued that the measure might well be interpreted to forbid cities, state universities and other public entities from offering domestic partnership benefits to their employees, but proponents of the measure dismissed that notion: a spokeswoman for Citizens for the Protection of Marriage, a group heavily backed by Michigan’s seven Catholic dioceses, told the Detroit News “nothing that’s on the books is going to change. We continue to confuse this issue by bringing in speculation.” However, with the amendment now in effect, the state’s attorney general — to cheers from most of the amendment’s organized backers — has issued an advisory opinion stating that it does indeed prohibit the city of Kalamazoo from providing DP benefits to its employees after the expiration of their current union contract. (Ed Finnerty, “City under fire over same-sex benefits plan”, Kalamazoo Gazette, Mar. 17; Claire Cummings and Melissa Domsic, “Cox: No future same-sex employee benefits”, State News (Michigan State U.), Mar. 17). Don Herzog of Left2Right, who has assembled plenty of links on the story, aptly labels the sequence of events “Bait and Switch” (Feb. 11 and Mar. 18). Update: Feb. 17, 2007 (Mich. appeals court rules benefits illegal under amendment).