The Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 2, 1998
Nov. 2, 1998
VOL. 28, NO. 10


Same-Sex Partners Get Benefits

By Steve Libowitz
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

In an effort to better promote workplace equality and to enhance its ability to attract outstanding faculty, staff and students, the university has announced that it will extend to same-sex domestic partners the same benefits and privileges currently offered to spouses and their dependent children. The policy goes into effect Jan. 1, 1999.

The expansion of university benefits, authorized by President William R. Brody, includes all university divisions. It extends coverage for medical and dental care; dependent life insurance and dependent personal accident insurance; tuition grant and tuition remission; leave time under the Family and Medical Leave Act; and full privileges in using the Hopkins athletic facilities and libraries and participating in the Johns Hopkins Credit Union.

"Adopting this policy reinforces the university's commitment to parity in the workplace and assures congruence between the university's personnel benefits policies and our equal opportunity policy," Brody said. "It also brings Hopkins' benefits into line with those of our peer universities, most of which have adopted similar policies."

Same-sex domestic partner benefits are now offered by hundreds of the nation's leading employers, including Walt Disney, Time Warner, IBM, Microsoft, National Public Radio, the San Francisco 49ers football team and Baltimore City, and dozens of colleges and universities, among them Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Cornell, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania, Duke, MIT, Cal Tech and the University of Chicago.

"Hopkins is committed to continuing to build a strong, inclusive community, and offering full benefits to partners of our gay and lesbian faculty, staff and students is an important part of fulfilling that commitment," said Audrey Smith, vice president of human resources.

Many groups across the university have been instrumental in maintaining a dialogue about expanding the benefits policy, Smith said. In 1994, the Benefits Equity Task Force, made up of faculty and staff throughout the university, originally recommended that Hopkins adopt these benefits. A Work and Family Task Force report in February 1997 made a similar recommendation. More recently, the Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Staff, Faculty and Student Committee and the Diversity Leadership Council requested of President Brody that university benefits be extended to same-sex domestic partners.

"It's important to understand that this policy expansion did not come on the heels of a campus protest or sit-ins or threats," said Ron Walters, professor of history and chair of the Diversity Leadership Council. "It came as a result of many individuals working hard to get the facts right and to make the case effectively.

"This sort of change does not come about without leadership at the top of the institution," he continued. "The president has articulated that diversity is a source of strength, but it's one thing to say it and quite another to put it into operation. What his action, with the support of the senior administration, says is that Hopkins recognizes that families come in different flavors, and that in recognizing that, we send the message to an even wider range of creative and talented individuals that they are valued at this university. We are absolutely delighted by this policy change."

The new policy does not extend benefits to unmarried heterosexual couples living together. This decision is consistent with benefits policies of peer institutions, Smith said, and is based on two concepts. First, opposite-sex couples do have the opportunity to marry and, therefore, to make a choice about their lifetime preferences. Same-sex partners do not have that choice; therefore, to have a policy in place for which they cannot possibly qualify is exclusionary. Second, studies at Hopkins and elsewhere have concluded that offering benefits to opposite-sex couples who choose not to marry would be potentially cost-prohibitive.

"We looked at the possibilities of extending benefits beyond the traditional family unit, such as to nieces and nephews and cousins and parents--anyone who lives with a Hopkins employee. This was too costly a course to take," Smith said. "We then looked at all domestic partners, and we determined that the most cost-effective and beneficial policy would be to include same-sex domestic partners."

"The university has not closed the book on extending benefits further," Walters said. "It is just reasonable to address the grossest inequities first."

University employees will be able to sign up for domestic partner benefits during the November flexible enrollment period. Those employees selecting enrollment for domestic partners will be required to complete an affidavit of marriage/domestic partnership, which states that the domestic partners "are committed as a family in a long-term relationship of indefinite duration and are socially, emotionally and financially interdependent with each other in an exclusive mutual commitment in which we agree to be responsible for each other's common welfare and share financial obligations."

The affidavit also requires domestic partners not be related by blood to the degree that would prohibit marriage in the state.

Smith said that the university will institute shortly an affidavit verifying marriage and children's dependency for all employees who sign up for benefits.

A "Benefits Update" with more detailed instructions on filing for these benefits will be mailed to all employees.