November 2nd was a devastating day. As a union member for over 18 years, I worked for six months pounding the Michigan pavement, encouraging union members like me to vote for John Kerry. I talked to union members all across the state, encouraging them to vote for a candidate who would help keep jobs in America and stifle the astronomical rising costs of healthcare for working folks. In the end, John Kerry won Michigan by 3 points. Union households overwhelming voted for John Kerry. Even though John Kerry lost the race for the White House, my friends think I should be heartened that in Michigan, I helped John Kerry take the state. I am not. I'm worried about what happens on December 17th.
This Friday, Michigan's anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment goes into effect across the state. In addition to being a proud union member, I am also a gay man, in a relationship of over 20 years. On November 2nd, a vast majority of my neighbors, no doubt many of them union members, voted in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and any "similar union for any purpose." They said they were voting for, "family values." Well let me tell you
about the values this amendment will foster.
On December 17th, people supposedly promoting family values will fundamentally challenge the livelihood of my family. I keep wondering, where is the family, in the values of this amendment? What kind of values removes my ability to provide health care coverage for my family? What kind of values strip away my right to take family and medical leave to take care of my family? What kind of values strip away my ability to share my personal benefits, pension and otherwise, to my family? Sure does not sound like family values to me.
My union has fought long and hard to make sure that all of its employees receive an equitable benefits package. In 2000, my employer, General Motors made domestic partnership benefits available to its employees. Now, nearly five years later, I am scared that the benefits I rely on for my mere survival might be under government-sanctioned scrutiny and attack. The attack has already started. Governor Granholm's decision to back away from domestic partner benefits negotiated by unions for state employees sends a troubling message to all employers in Michigan. I imagine its only a matter of time before private employers in Michigan begin to strip domestic partner benefits from their benefits packages.
I know some people do not like the way my family looks- and they do not think it should exist. But it does exist. It has existed for twenty years, and with or without this amendment my family will continue to exist, growing stronger every year. But I must say to my union brothers and sisters who voted for this amendment, be careful what you wish for.
My family is under attack. The benefits that I rely on are under attack. There is no reason to believe that your benefits will not be the next under the gun.
Employers these days are looking for any reason to eliminate benefits as they try to compete with cheaper labor overseas. While workers in public institutions are the most likely to feel the full effect of this amendment immediately, employees in the private sector could easily see their benefits shrink as well. I am afraid Michigan residents may have given employers one more weapon in their arsenal to further reduce the
costs of business.
We have this old motto in the labor movement; an injury to one is an injury to all. After what has happened in Michigan, the motto deserves some reflection. Us working people, gay and straight, must stick together if we hope to survive these dark economic times.
Unfortunately, I believe that it won't be long before all of Michigan begins to feel the repercussions of the traumatic injury they have just perpetuated on their gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters.
Dan Sturgis is a member of the United Auto Workers and a Co-Chair of the Pride At Work Michigan Chapter, an organization representing LGBT workers in Michigan. To learn more about the chapter, please contact Dan at email@example.com .