Wynn, Sullivan, others request same-sex partner benefits
Recent alum says Attorney General should offer stopgap measure
“In the meantime, there are people working here who have to worry about the health of their loved ones for no reason,” Wynn said.
Recent University alumnus Brendan Wynn, along with 75 other students, faculty and administrators, sent a letter last Tuesday to Attorney General Mark Herring, urging the commonwealth to extend same-sex partner benefits to public employees in Virginia. Virginia law currently does not permit state-provided health insurance benefits for same-sex domestic partners.
“Our faculty and staff have waited on issues like this one for years, and we all keep hoping for the courts to take care of this issue,” Wynn said. “But in the meantime, there are people working here who have to worry about the health of their loved ones for no reason.”
The letter comes in response to a University employee’s testimony that her partner was unable to afford diabetic treatment because of Virginia’s current constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
“I mention in the letter [this] story that moved me a great deal,” Wynn said. “I felt I had to do something.”
University President Teresa Sullivan, Law Prof. Douglas Laycock and Prof. Dick Howard – who re-wrote the Virginia constitution in 1971 – all signed the letter.
“[President Sullivan] signed Mr. Wynn’s letter, but personally and individually, not as University president or a member of the U.Va. faculty,” University spokesperson McGregor McCance said.
Sullivan also signed a letter sent to Gov. McAuliffe earlier this year from the Virginia Council of Presidents which expressed support for equitable health care plans for all employees and their families.
“That letter was from the president at the University of Mary Washington and he said that he couldn’t hire two of his top choices for faculty because he couldn’t provide them with partner benefits,” Wynn said.
According to Wynn’s letter, “the Council’s argument makes good business sense for Virginia … [and] the policy change that the Council has advocated for would make a real difference in the lives of Virginia employees.”
During a University Faculty Senate meeting in April, Sullivan described the problems the current law presents for higher education and advocated changing it.
“President Sullivan believes that the current laws regarding benefits for same-sex partners places the University of Virginia and public higher education in the commonwealth at a complete disadvantage,” McCance said.
The University Faculty Senate also approved a resolution earlier in March in support of extending the benefits policy to include same-sex domestic partners. The resolution cited the extension of benefits as “essential to recruitment and retention of talented faculty at the University of Virginia.”
“Virginia schools – U.Va. included – have lost talented faculty to equality states where they can get married and lead a happy life,” Wynn said. “That’s even true for some straight faculty who don’t want to live and work in a state they view as anti-LGBTQ.”
Wynn said he believes there are several routes Herring can take to address the issue of extending partner benefits.
“Former [William & Mary] Rector Jeff Trammell and Bob Witeck (U.Va. 1974) have recommended an ‘Other Qualified Adult’ plan that would mimic the PlusOne benefits we offer for gym membership,” Wynn said. “[Herring] could also write an opinion allowing institutions like U.Va. to use university-related foundation money as a stopgap measure to provide needed coverage until the pending case in the 4th Circuit is decided.”
Although Wynn has reached out to other schools to write similar open letters, he wanted the University to take the lead.
“I wanted the University to be out in front on this one,” Wynn said. “The LGBTQ community has a number of allies here and I’m proud to have the University issue this letter.”
According to a statement issued by the Attorney General’s office, Herring believes the best solution is recognizing the constitutional right of all couples to marry.
“Virginia’s constitutional ban on marriage equality is a serious obstacle which forces the state to treat same-sex couples as second-class citizens,” said Michael Kelly, spokesman for the Attorney General’s office. “Until that fight is won, [Herring] will continue working with our schools to find any options within the current law to provide the benefits they seek.”
Democrat and Republican party spokespersons could not be reached for comment.