“UT Offers Domestic Partner Benefits, Ending Long Struggle”

A week after Hillsborough County commissioners shot down a similar idea and two months after Florida voters rejected gay marriage, the University of Tampa agreed Wednesday to begin offering domestic partner benefits for homosexual couples.

Beginning April 1, UT will allow same-sex domestic partners to secure health insurance and other employee benefits. The offer does not apply to heterosexual domestic partnerships because those couples are allowed to marry under state law.

‘It’s about time,’ said Matt Gould, president of the Gay Lesbian Transgender Straight Bisexual Alliance, a UT student group. ‘I think it’s great that UT is implementing [benefits], but I think it’s wrong that the entire county won’t.’

Last week, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner asked his colleagues to consider having the county offer domestic partner benefits. His request was rejected 5-2, and commissioners declined to even allow county staff to study the issue further. In 2004, commissioners also declined to offer benefits to gay couples.

In December 2007, The Minaret reported faculty dissatisfaction with the lack of benefits at UT, characterizing the quest for same-sex benefits as ‘a 15-year administrative shell game in which the biggest losers are progress, equal rights and the university’s reputation.’

Faculty voted twice in four years to endorse the benefits but claimed their requests were being ignored by President Ronald L. Vaughn.

UT’s new benefit plan was announced Wednesday in an e-mail to faculty members:

‘The decision to offer same-sex domestic partner benefits was made after a lengthy, thorough and deliberate analysis. In 2008, the University hired an independent consulting firm, Sibson Consulting, to analyze issues and assess the feasibility of offering benefits to domestic partners.’

The plan listed four requirements:

-Be made available to employees who are in long-term, committed relationships and cannot marry according to Florida state laws;

-Offer equity with married employees to the extent permitted by federal laws;

-Be financially responsible; and

-Not jeopardize the tax-favored status of any of UT’s programs.

‘Because of the first condition, Sibson’s study focused on the potential design and implementation of a same-sex domestic partner (SSDP) benefit program,’ the email continued. ‘Their research and recent presentation of findings helped us determine that offering same-sex domestic partner benefits is feasible and beneficial to the UT community.

Officials said more details would be available soon on the school’s employee Web site.

Reaction on campus was mixed.

Michael Burns, a Spartan Club employee, called the vote ‘a good thing. I think people that have been together so long, they deserve it.’

‘I don’t think (homosexual employees) should get special treatment,’ said Shanney Myers, a sophomore criminology major. ‘Benefits are given to a husband or wife when their husband or wife work here. This is not a good thing.’

Linda LaComb-Williams, who teaches a nursing lab, disagreed.

‘It’s a progressive step in taking the stigma away from people who need equal rights,’ she said.

Gould also thinks UT’s decision is a positive change ‘- especially in a state where 62 percent of voters amended the constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

‘It’s not like people in gay relationships are going around trying to convert their heterosexual friends,’ said the sophomore English major.


Other private universities, including Lynn, Nova Southeastern and the University of Miami, offer domestic partner benefits, as do approximately 80 percent of U.S. News ‘amp; World Report’s top 50 colleges and more than half of Fortune 500 companies, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

UT is not alone in the benefits debate that has been brought up in recent news. The University of New Hampshire has already gone through this process, and by law in New Hampshire, a civil union must be forged in order to share benefits. The University System of New Hampshire has just ruled that same-sex partners will lose their health benefits unless they are legally in a civil union by July.

In Texas, state-funded schools are prohibited by the state from offering benefits to same-sex couples. Texas Christian University, a private school, has offered benefits to homosexual couples since 2005. According to the university, each party must sign a domestic partnership affidavit and submit it to Human Resources for it to be a considered for domestic partnership benefits. This year, a bill is to be addressed that will overturn laws preventing the University of Texas-Austin from extending benefits to homosexual employees.

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