Gay partners may get health benefits

by Steve Hoffman | 7/6/93 5:00am

College President James Freedman is considering a plan to extend health benefits to the homosexual partners of College employees.

A task force established by former Provost John Strohbehn completed a report last week outlining a plan to give employees' same-sex domestic partners the same benefits as legally married spouses.

Although the report has not yet been released and a final decision will not be made until the College's benefits council and attorneys approve the plan, task force members say the College is committed to the principles involved.

"The big decision has been made and we're going to move forward. The question is how," said task force member Mike Lowenthal, a representative of Dartmouth's Coalition for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Concerns. The coalition, composed of College personnel, promotes awareness of homosexual issues.

"In all policies and aspects of College life, gay and lesbian couples should be treated equivalently to marriages," Lowenthal said.

Lyn Hutton, task force chair and College vice president and treasurer was unavailable for comment.

Freedman and acting Provost Bruce Pipes, in consultation with senior deans, will make the final decision within the next few weeks. If approved, Dartmouth will become one of the first schools in the country to extend benefits to its employees' homosexual partners.

The task force hopes to have benefits in place for gay employees' partners by next January.

The task force report comes at a time when public and private employers, including educational institutions, are extending benefit coverage to the partners of their gay and lesbian workers.

Last week the Vermont Labor Relations Board urged the University of Vermont to offer health insurance to its employees' homosexual partners.

"The definition of family is changing in our society," said John Crane, an administrative Librarian and the Coalition's co-facilitator.

"Families of legal marriage are no longer adequate definitions of what we have come to understand as family," Crane added. "I can see little difference between same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners."

Dartmouth currently provides spouses of College employees with health insurance and other benefits that include access to the College's libraries and athletic facilities.

Under the new plan, Lowenthal said employees who wanted to include their spouses or partners on their insurance would be required to sign a form attesting that they are married or involved in same-sex domestic partnerships.

Lowenthal said the College would provide a definition of domestic partnership and, in keeping with its Principle of Community, allow individuals to determine if their situations apply.

"The burden of proof is no less or greater than it is for married spouses," Crane said.

Individuals who live in "a committed family relationship" would be eligible for the College's benefits, Crane said. He added that "one's sexual orientation has nothing to do with the capacity to live in that kind of a relationship."

Crane said he expects the College to offer all its benefits and not just restrict the plan to health insurance.

Crane said the Coalition hopes the College will include non-married heterosexual partners and dependent children among those eligible for benefits.

The College is currently planning to reduce the amount it spends on benefits, the fastest growing portion of the College's budget.

In May, Hutton and Strohbehn announced a plan to cut employee benefits to avoid a projected $1.3 million budget deficit in 1994. The College spent $30.2 million this year on benefits.

The plan to extend benefits could cost Dartmouth an additional $50,000 each year, according to Richard Brock, director of human resources. But Brock said this was a "worst-case" estimate and that $20,000 was a more appropriate figure.

But Lowenthal said the issue of extending benefits to employees' homosexual partners is necessary and should be viewed independently from these proposed cuts.

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