FLINT -- Rebecca Witt and Gary Johnson of Flint have been together for six years, share a house and are raising three kids together.
But they're not married. And Johnson now faces an awkward choice: Pay $3,800 in medical bills from the birth of his daughter with Witt or get married and owe nothing under Michigan's paternity act.
Witt, 24, said it's not about the $3,800. There's a principle involved. "I don't think anybody has a right to tell anyone who they have to marry or when they have to get married," Witt said.
State lawmakers amended Michigan's paternity act five years ago to waive birthing costs for a father if he married the child's mother. A year later, Witt gave birth to her and Johnson's daughter, JaeLyn. Witt was on Medicaid so the state paid her medical bills but Johnson was responsible for 49 percent, unless the couple got hitched.
The law is an incentive to maintain the sanctity of marriage, Genesee County Friend of the Court Jack Battles said. Taxpayers are entitled to get that money back from Johnson if he and Witt choose to remain unmarried, Battles said.
"It's totally up to them," said Battles, whose office enforces paternity rulings. Until Johnson can produce a marriage license, "they have to pay."
National advocacy groups are sharply divided over Genesee County's actions.
"It is despicable that the state would waive medical bills like a shotgun in the face of a low-income (family)," said Nicky Grist, executive director of the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Alternatives to Marriage.
A spokesman for the American Family Association in Mississippi said government has the authority to encourage marriage and should use it for the good of society.
"The nuclear family is the preferred building block of civilization," said Michael DePrimo.
Witt said she and Johnson don't have a problem with the $3,800 bill. Their issue is the amount the state wants Johnson, who makes $8 an hour at his job at a nursery, to pay each month -- $500.
"We're not trying to get out of the bill," Witt said. "We said we'd pay it. We just can't afford $500. That's our rent money."
From the Detroit News