November 15, 2008
More on UT domestic partner benefits

Here's a report on that rally at the University of Texas in favor of domestic partner benefits for faculty and staff that I blogged about earlier in the week.

UT employees said Wednesday that they will take an active stand against a University policy that only affords health care benefits to married couples.

Hundreds rallied at the Texas Union Patio for the event organized by UT's Pride and Equity Faculty Staff Association, which represents gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender University employees. UT does not provide health care benefits to non-spousal dependents or employees with same-sex partners on the grounds that Texas law prohibits such extensions.

The association presented a 70-page report on the lack of domestic partner benefits to the administration in April, but in August, UT President William Powers and lawyers from the UT System and University told the organization they were not in a position to help employees seeking extended partner benefits.

"There's a time and place to make a stand, and providing domestic partner benefits to all members of our community is the right thing to do, and this is the time to do it," said Gregory Vincent, vice president for diversity and community engagement at UT.

Vincent told the crowd that the University will not be able to ensure equal benefits for all employees on its own.

"In a real way, we have to partner with the Legislature, partner with universities across the state, partner with [the UT System]," he said. "We may be the flagship, but we cannot do this alone."

Speaking of the Legislature, one of the attendees was State Rep. Elliott Naishtat, who represents UT-Austin. He'll be working on that this session.

Naishtat said a bill that will be drafted for the 2009 Texas legislative session would eliminate the legal issues that hinder UT from extending benefits.

If passed, the bill will alter the language in the section of the Texas Constitution that prohibits UT from providing benefits to same-sex partners of employees. The insurance code states that the University can only provide benefits to a dependent, whom the code defines as a spouse. Naishtat's bill will add the phrase "or other qualified individual," and UT could then define who may be included in this category of individuals.

Naishtat said that while many legislators want to co-sponsor the bill, support may be currently lacking, as the bill is in its early stages of drafting.

"I can assure you, though, there will be opposition to it," he said. "Texas may not be the most progressive state, but if this had anything to do with making UT more competitive in football, I'd think you'd see domestic partner benefits in a New York minute."

If it will actually require a Constitutional amendment, I don't see any way that it will happen. An ordinary bill requiring only a majority might make it through, though it would be a big underdog and would almost surely get vetoed if it reached Governor Perry's desk. But you still have to make the effort, because it's a fight that needs to be fought, and if not this Lege and this Governor, maybe the next one will do the right thing. Or maybe UT will realize it has no reason not to do what other schools have done and make this happen anyway. Either way, I'll try to follow the progress of Naishtat's bill in the House. Thanks to BOR for the link. Photos, videos, and links to coverage of the event can be found on Facebook here, here, and here, and the petition, which now has about 1000 signatures, is here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 15, 2008 to The great state of Texas
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