benefits for same-sex partners

By Gus Bode

University deliberates offering health care to employees’ partners

While the U.S. Senate chalked up a victory for same-sex couples Wednesday by blocking President Bush’s Constitutional amendment proposal to ban gay marriages, partners of homosexual SIU employees could also see good news in the form of health care benefits from the University.

An impending option would provide financial assistance to the partners of homosexual employees on both SIU campuses, enabling them to pay the cost for health and medical benefits.

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Duane Stucky, vice president for Financial and Administrative Affairs on the SIUC campus, said the health benefits package is part of a larger issue currently being explored by the Administration and the SIU Board of Trustees. The matter looks to offer same-sex partners a range of benefits already enjoyed by the spouses of heterosexual employees.

Upon approval, the SIU System would likely model its package after those installed at other state universities, such as the University of Illinois and Western Illinois University. Illinois State University is also deliberating the enactment of a similar policy.

Under those programs at Illinois and Western, same-sex partners of faculty and staff members who purchase their own private health insurance policy would be reimbursed a dictated amount by the administration.

According to Stucky, the estimated refund for the SIU policy is $4,800.

Paulette Curkin, who is co-director of the SIUC Triangle Coalition and faculty sponsor for the Saluki Rainbow Network, said the process for these benefits has been a long time coming but steam picked up once other universities inaugurated their options.

“We’ve been moving toward this for 10 years,” Curkin said. “After the U of I, it became more of a front-burner issue.”

The Board of Trustees at Illinois approved the health benefits expansion on July 17, 2003. For faculty and staff members who register their domestic partners, Illinois tenders up to $3,000 in additional compensation in order to pay for their spouses’ insurance. The university employee would then have to pay taxes on the additional income.

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Robert Cerchio, director of Shyrock Auditorium and member of the Triangle Coalition, said he expressed “amazed relief” when he found about the option.

“I was very surprised,” Cerchio said. “This is very progressive on the [SIU Board of Trustees’] part.”

In comparison to the other campuses’ options, the expected number of enrollment in the health benefit option would be very few. Cerchio said one likely cause for the limited figure could be due to insurance policies offered to the partners through their own employment agencies.

Another source could be fear.

Cerchio, who has remained with his partner for 25 years, said he was among the first to receive the spouse/domestic partner card when it was changed to include the other halves of homosexual employees. The card allows significant others of faculty and staff to use campus facilities, such as Morris Library and the Recreation Center. He said he found it interesting that the process had to be done person-to-person, specifically with a student worker.

Cerchio said he believes there is a fair amount of people on campus who do not want their sexuality known.

“They would forego a benefit just to maintain anonymity,” he said.

The option, Stucky said, also does not include benefits offered through the state, such as retirement. In order for a survivor benefits package to be installed, change in the state legislature would have to be made.

If the SIU policy is approved, Curkin said, the option would allow the SIU campuses to join the ranks of other public universities who have installed similar policies. The same-sex health benefit package could also sway a possible employee’s decision to come to the SIU System.

“If we want to continue to be an aspiring research institution, then we need to make sure we are competitive,” Curkin said.

Cerchio said during times of illness, he has had to foot the medical bill for his partner. Although doctors have supplied sample medication, the health benefits option would be a much-obliged assistant.

“It would certainly be a welcome relief,” Cerchio said.

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