Faculty and student groups push for instituting domestic partner benefits at UT

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While the UT System Faculty Advisory Council will debate with each other about a whole range of issues during the legislative session, they are all on board when it comes to domestic partner benefits.

The 30-member council voted unanimously on a resolution last month encouraging the UT System Board of Regents to work with the state Legislature on providing full benefits to domestic partners of System employees. Martha Hilley, chairwoman of UT’s Faculty Council, requested that the issue be put on the agenda. 

Hilley said part of her reasoning for making the request was to see where the faculty councils of other UT campuses and medical schools stand on the issue. 

“I wanted to see whether all of the other campuses felt the same way,” Hilley said. “And it passed unanimously.” 

In the last few years, the Senate of College Councils and Student Government passed similar resolutions calling for competitive benefits to be extended to partners of UT employees and retirees without regard to the partner’s sex. 

Invest in Texas, the nonpartisan student lobbying campaign, lists “allow[ing] UT to provide competitive plus-one benefit packages” as a central goal of its platform.  

“A growing practice throughout the nation is to allow an unmarried employee to add an adult, who they have lived with for a certain amount of time, to their benefits package,” said Michael Morton, Invest in Texas co-chairman and president of the Senate of College Councils. “We’re one of the few universities who don’t, and that hinders our ability to recruit.”

According to current Texas law, the UT and Texas A&M Systems can only offer uniform benefits to dependents specified under the Texas Insurance Code, including spouses and unmarried children under the age of 25. Texas Family Code defines spouse as “a husband, who is a man, or a wife, who is a woman,” and specifies that “a member of a civil union or similar relationship ... between persons of the same sex is not a spouse.” 

But according to Chuck Smith, president of the LGBT lobbying group Equality Texas, the legal issues are not so black and white. 

“How much power the University has to institute domestic partner benefits depends largely on who you ask,” Smith said. “We might contend that the University has the ability to do it now, and in fact has the obligation to do it now, because the statute that created the two flagship institutions for UT and A&M specifically requires that they be competitive.” 

Smith said that the politicization of the issue makes it less likely that any laws will be amended. 

“This issue has been heavily politicized, but it should be viewed as a competitive workplace issue,” Smith said. “That will change when we have a different governor.”

Hilley said she hopes the regents will see the domestic partner issue from a competitive workplace standpoint. 

“More and more states are signing on to do this, and here we sit — a state that should be a leader in all things,” Hilley said. “I think it’s worth a shot to bring this issue up before the board every time we can.”

Published on February 11, 2013 as "Council votes for benefits for domestic partnerships".