Virginia faculty advocate for LGBT partner state benefits
William & Mary Rector sends letter to educators, legislators to call for legislative action
In the wake of the Supreme Court decision overturning part of the Defense of Marriage Act this summer, increased attention has fallen on the University and its public school counterparts for their lack of same-sex partner benefits and the potential impact that will have on their ability to attract and retain LGBTQ faculty.
The June decision affording same-sex spouses federal marriage benefits could spell trouble for Virginia universities, according to Jeff Trammell, the former rector of William & Mary.
“We must face the reality that today’s Supreme Court rulings add a substantial incentive for our gay and lesbian faculty and staff to leave the Commonwealth’s public universities and colleges,” Trammell said in a June letter to rectors and university presidents across the state. “The fact is, unless we gain the ability to at least offer basic partner benefits, these valued employees will receive none of these if they stay at our public universities and colleges.”
An August editorial in The Washington Post cited a College professor who left to work at a university in New York because her partner, who was diagnosed with cancer, could not get access to the University’s health insurance. The article also references a physician at the University Medical School who departed for another job at an Ivy League institution after failing to obtain University health insurance coverage for her same-sex partner.
University Spokesperson McGregor McCance said in an email the University allows only legally recognized spouses and dependent children to be on a University employee’s health insurance plan. Unlike that use of the strict definition of spouse, however, the University uses a broad definition of “dependent children.”
“Children include biological children, stepchildren, adopted children and foster children,” McCance said. “Other children for whom you are the legal guardian with permanent custody who are unmarried, live with you 100 percent of the time in a parent-child relationship, and are declared as a dependent on your federal tax return can remain on the health plan through December 31st of the year in which they turn 26.”
In 2009, presidents of the University, William & Mary and George Mason University wrote in a joint letter to then-Gov. Tim Kaine saying Virginia public universities are at a competitive disadvantage with their public and private competitors by not offering benefits to married same-sex couples.
Virginia is among the 35 states to define marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman through constitutional or statutory provisions. According to the latest result from Quinnipiac University poll, 50 percent of registered Virginia voters support same-sex marriage as opposed to 43 percent who disapprove of it.