Allow same-sex benefits

On March 22, the state House entered the negotiation process for state labor contracts – previously the rightful task of the governor alone – by removing same-sex benefits from the compromise Ventura and the unions agreed on. This is no surprise, though; last May, the House approved a bill that prohibited same-sex benefits for state workers. Although the bill never became a law, it set the tone for the House’s stance on same-sex benefits.

“The decision we made today is the same one we made one year ago,” said Rep. Mike Osskopp, R-Lake City, reported the Star Tribune. “This body told the Ventura administration, ‘No, do not do this,’ and the Ventura administration thumbed its nose at the people of Minnesota.”

Actually, the state House isn’t the only place the people of Minnesota are represented. After all, we voted in the governor who negotiated the contract and also the Senate that voted to ratify the contract in its entirety. So with regard to public representation, the House is in the minority in its views on benefits for gay and lesbian couples. This makes sense, because Minnesota has the 10th-largest gay and lesbian population in the country, and Minneapolis hosts the third-largest gay and lesbian population of any U.S. city.

Regardless, many people disapprove of gay couples, and they don’t want the state to condone or associate with the gay community. People have the right to feel that way. However, they don’t have the right to deny anyone access to doctors, dentists and other forms of health care because of disagreements in belief. And denying people the ability to afford common – yet life-saving – benefits because they are gay does exactly that.

Many private companies provide
same-sex benefits for their employees. For instance, Northwest Airlines provides benefits for its gay and lesbian employees’ partners. So the state isn’t stepping out of form by offering such benefits. But if it denies them, the state will be discriminating against a pool of talent for what hardly amounts to secular reasons.

Opponents of benefits for same-sex partners point out that the policy is flawed because it is biased against heterosexuals. A heterosexual couple living together cannot apply for similar benefits even if they have been living together and are just as committed as a gay and lesbian couple. This is a significant problem with the policy. However, heterosexual couples can get married. Minnesota law does not allow marriage between homosexual couples. Until that bias changes, the state will have to provide affordable health care for gay and lesbian partners in this fashion.