Same-Sex Couples Hope to Gain Equal Benefits at NDSU
Published: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 31, 2013 02:10
Same-sex couples may be taking another step towards equality at NDSU.
The university recently expanded institutional benefits to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees and their partners, pending approval by NDSU President Dean Bresciani.
The benefits would include a 50 percent tuition cut for the partners of employees at NDSU. However, NDSU would not be able to offer the couples health care, as it is illegal according to North Dakota state law.
“I think that this expansion of our benefit package for our faculty and staff in same-sex relationships is an important step towards sending the message that we value all members of our campus community and that we will continue to seek out ways to treat people fairly,” NDSU Director of Diversity Initiative Kara Gravley-Stack wrote in an email on Tuesday.
Health benefits for all North Dakota public employees are currently given by the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System, which defines a spouse as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”
“There are policies, such as health benefits, that many of us would also like to see expanded,” Gravley-Stack said. “However, because that is a policy that is determined by all employees of the state of North Dakota, and is neither negotiated nor written by the institution, we cannot change that.”
Previously, NDSU made it possible for all partners of institution employees to own a membership at the Wallman Wellness Center. The employees’ partners have also had access to several other services throughout campus. With the newest policy, all partners of employees will see the same level of tuition cut.
While the move is just getting approved, Gravley-Stack said employee benefits for same-sex couples have been a discussion for many years.
“This is one of several policies that we have discussed and advocated for,” she said. “Getting this policy passed is an incredibly important step, as it is an NDSU institutional policy that can be expanded by our campus.”
Various organizations have been pushing for the change, Gravley-Stack said. Though not every relationship may be public, Gravley-Stack said it was still important to start the discussion.
A group of LGBTQ faculty and staff forms the NDSU Pride Network. Gravley-Stack explained that they were the ones primarily responsible for bringing up the policy matter.
“Faculty senate really took the lead on investigating policies such at this at other universities and on drafting the new policy language,” she said.
The faculty senate approved the policy last spring, and the state senate then approved it this fall.
“I would say that all three entities were integral for this policy to get passed and be forwarded to the President,” Gravley-Stack said.
The push for marriage rights has been a pressing issue across the United States. The movement at NDSU would hold some meaning for the LGBT community of North Dakota, as same-sex marriage has remained illegal in the state. Gravley-Stack said this change in policy could be part of a bigger movement.
“I do believe that we are experiencing some significant changes in overall attitudes towards matters related to LGBTQ equality,” she said. “Younger generations overall seem to be much more open to this area of diversity, so popular opinion is shifting as well. This definitely is an issue of equity for all members of our campus community and when there are some policies that blatantly benefit only a specific population of our community to the exclusion of others, that is a matter that we need to address.”