First year of domestic partner benefits runs smoothly
Nearly a year has passed since the University announced its decision to
provide benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of employees. For the
most part, implementing the new policy has gone smoothly, but there have
been a few bumps along the way.
"From our point of view, the health care enrollment of same-sex domestic
partners has gone well," said Pat Douglass, director of Employee Services.
"There are about 50 employees who have signed up for these benefits.
That's out of an employee base of about 14,000," she said. To sign
up, employees fill out an affidavit that certifies they are sharing a long-term
committed relationship that is similar to that of marriage in its exclusivity,
and that they have financial responsibility for each other's well-being
and debts to third parties.
"For me personally, it's meant that my partner now has good health
insurance," said Saralyn Chesnut, director of the Office of Lesbian/Gay
/Bisexual Life. "I think it's incontrovertible that this policy is
an issue of equity and fairness, but it's symbolically important because
it acknowledges that same-sex couples have long-term committed relationships,
as do heterosexual couples. By having this policy, Emory has set a trend
for private schools in the South and for businesses in the South."
In contrast to such support, the policy has been criticized both on and
off campus. Last year, several employees wrote letters to the editor of
Emory Report to express their disapproval, citing Christian religious
beliefs as their objection to the policy. Douglass said she still occasionally
hears from employees who don't agree with Emory's decision to offer same-sex
The off-campus criticism has come primarily through Emory's relationship
with the United Methodist Church. In mid-July Emory was reprimanded by the
United Methodist Church's Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference for having
the policy. By a vote of 245-226 with 16 abstentions, the jurisdiction criticized
the provision of benefits to domestic partners, according to the Sept. 20
issue of the United Methodist Reporter, the denomination's national
President Bill Chace responded to the jurisdictional conference's action
in a lengthy letter to Bishop Robert C. Morgan, president of the jurisdiction's
administrative council and an Emory trustee. In the letter, Chace said that
Emory provides such benefits "because we believe it to be consistent
both with our educational mission and with the Book of Discipline of the
United Methodist Church."
Chace wrote that Emory cannot violate its own policy against discrimination.
"Insofar as employee benefits are `civil liberties' that should be
apportioned equitably, our policy comports with the Discipline's stand for
`simple justice in protecting . . . such lawful claims typically attendant
to contractual relationships which involve shared contributions, responsibilities,
and liabilities, and equal protection before the law.' We do not believe
the University's position and the United Methodist Church's position to
be in conflict."
to the October 7, 1996 contents page