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University considers same-sex health care

Some 70 percent of universities in the Association of American Universities (AAU) offer full benefits, including medical and dental coverage and tuition reimbursement, to same sex domestic partners of their full-time faculty and staff.

In late June and early July, three state universities chose to follow the practice of those in the AAU, including Miami University, Ohio University, and Ohio State University.

Cleveland State University has announced plans to offer the benefits, and Bowling Green is examining the possibility.

“The Faculty Senate has had an ad hoc committee looking at domestic partner benefits…the administration has been awaiting their report, which will give us some indication of the number of individuals involved, the type of benefits desired, and potential costs,” University President Sidney Ribeau said.

Christina Guenther chairs the Faculty Senate’s Domestic Partner Benefits Ad Hoc Committee, which is conducting “activities necessary to determine the steps needed to achieve equity at BGSU in relation to domestic partner benefits,” and recommend to the Faculty Senate how those steps should be implemented, according to the document which formed the committee.

According to Guenther, both soft benefits such as library privileges and hard benefits such as medical coverage will be looked at by the committee.

“We met throughout the last academic year, have prepared a questionnaire to ascertain the dollar amount that is involved, and will send faculty and staff this questionnaire in the fall. We have begun preparing a proposal which we plan to present to the administration and Faculty Senate by late fall,” Guenther said of the committee.

The state universities that have begun to offer the benefits claim the costs are minimal.

At Ohio State University, other benefits to dependents of their faculty, staff, and students were also expanded. They expect their healthcare benefits budget to go up by one-half to three-quarters of 1 percent, according to a recent release. The benefits will not be funded with state money.

Miami University expects less than 1 percent of their faculty and staff to qualify, causing their healthcare benefits budget to increase by about one-half of 1 percent.

Daniel Meyers, Director of the Interactive Language Resource Center at Miami University, is more concerned with the rewards than the costs. His partner, who has been unemployed due to several medical conditions, will be covered under the new benefits package.

“When I realized that my partner’s monthly medical and hospital bills would now be taken care of, I felt an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders,” Meyers said. “For the first time, I won’t have to scrape to make ends meet in paying off medical debts and hospital visit costs. Also, since he is now eligible to attend Miami under the tuition remission benefit, he can go back to school and finish his degree.”

In order for Meyers to get coverage for his partner, he had to submit an affidavit claiming him. Meyers had to be in an indefinite relationship with his partner that had existed for at least 6 months, have joint ownership of a residence and certain financial accounts, and have his partner listed as a primary beneficiary in his will or life insurance plan.

According to Guenther, same-sex domestic partners won’t be the only ones benefiting from the new coverage.

“As the premier learning community here in northwest Ohio, we must keep step with the best universities of our region. If we do not stay in step, we will lose our competitive edge with regard to faculty, administrators and students,” Guenther said, concluding that some high quality faculty may consider the benefits a deal breaker when deciding where to teach.

Undergraduate Student Government President Alex Wright agrees with that possibility, but does not feel that the University should be pressured by the decisions of other Universities.

“Each university has its own specific culture and climate; what works at one university may not work at another university, but what works at say, Miami, may very well work here,” Wright said. “You’d have to look at the cost benefits, we’re already in financial trouble, and all state universities are.”

The decisions to offer the benefits followed state legislation passed by the governor in February, which made same-sex marriage “against the strong public policy of the state.” However, House Bill 272, otherwise known as the “Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA),” only restricted same-sex couples’ statutory benefits, such as those related to taxes.

“The governor believes that offering benefits to same-sex domestic partners is a business decision that should be left up to employers; be that a university, private business or local government,” Orest H. Holubec, governor’s press secretary, said.

The Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage is currently gathering more than 300,000 signatures to propose an amendment to the state constitution that would place restrictions similar to DOMA in the document. The proposed amendment would also have no effect on the new benefits.

“Absolutely not, the constitutional change has no bearing whatsoever on universities or the private sector,” Phil Burress, chairman of the campaign, said.

Five students were asked if they would like to see such benefits available to faculty and staff at the University. Four students would like to see the benefits extended and one would not.

Nick Martin, a senior majoring in international business, does not want to see the benefits at the University.

“I don’t think same sex partners should be recognized,” Martin said.

Kristen Cygen, a junior majoring in criminal justice, said that same sex partners should get the benefits, just like everyone else.

“Why not? They’re human beings,” Cygen said.

Guenther, who is a member of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community, holds much hope that the benefits will come to campus.

“I’m heartened by the positive response in Ohio to this very important civil rights issue and feel certain that our own academic community here at BGSU is in support of domestic partner benefits,” Guenther said.

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