Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

GU Grants Gay Health Benefits

Georgetown will expand health care benefits to cover the same-sex partners of gay employees, administrators announced Tuesday.

The university’s new policy, which will go into effect Jan. 1, allows faculty and staff who are eligible for benefits to purchase health coverage for one “legally domiciled adult” who lives with the employee and meets several specific criteria.

As written, the policy would allow coverage for a person with whom an employee is financially interdependent and has a “close personal relationship.” Dependent blood relatives would also be eligible for coverage under the new benefits rules.

Spiros Dimolitsas, senior vice president and chief administrative officer, said in an e-mail announcing the new policy to faculty Tuesday that in either case, the individual receiving coverage must live with the employee and not have access to other group health care coverage.

“We reviewed many issues in formulating this policy and believe that expanding our current offerings in this way will increase access to quality health care benefits . in keeping with our commitment as a Catholic, Jesuit university to respond to the human needs of others,” Dimolitsas said.

Proponents of the new policy hailed the change as a major step forward for efforts to equalize treatment of straight and gay employees. Georgetown had been one of a handful of top-tier universities that had not extended benefits coverage to the partners of gay employees.

The policy was originally drafted by Dimolitsas and University Counsel Jane Genster in response to a resolution passed in the spring by the Faculty Senate. Dimolitsas and Genster submitted their proposal to the Benefits Advisory Committee on Sept. 28, which reviewed and forwarded it to the President’s Executive Committee for approval.

The reformed benefits structure still does not provide dental coverage or life insurance, among other benefits, to legally domiciled adults on the same basis as employees’ spouses. University spokeswoman Julie Bataille said that the BAC recommended not including dental benefits in the final package because of pending changes to Georgetown’s dental coverage.

“Since health care coverage is the major benefit offered by the university and has the greatest impact on the most people, that was the focus of this effort,” Bataille said.

BAC Chair Elliot Crooke said that the policy approved by the executive committee closely mirrored the version approved and amended by the BAC, which deliberated on the reforms for over a month.

“Everything’s taken into consideration,” Crooke said. “We think this is something that greatly enhances the benefits for our university community.”

Tommaso Astarita, director of undergraduate studies at the History Department and co-founder of the group GU Gay and Lesbian Faculty, was one of the principal authors of the Faculty Senate resolution calling for reforms to the university’s benefits system. He applauded the administration’s decision to expand its health care options.

“It’s a good idea to expand the definition of what we mean by family, and make it less formal and rigid,” Astarita said. “Anytime you actually expand benefits, it’s a good thing.”

Astarita cautioned that few faculty might opt for the new policy at first, however, because of federal tax restrictions that would treat benefits to legally domiciled adults as taxable income.

“I suspect that at the beginning very few people will be able to use it, but that doesn’t diminish” the policy’s importance as a step forward for gay employees, he said. “I think it will be at least symbolically important to people.”

The new policy also has special significance for Georgetown as a Catholic-affiliated university. The Catholic Church has consistently opposed efforts to extend marriage and marriage-related benefits to gay couples.

Bill McCoy, assistant director of student organizations and LGBTQ community resources, said that he did not believe that extending benefits to partners of gay employees created a conflict with Catholic teachings.

“It all really boils down to how one interprets their faith,” he said. “For me personally I don’t see a conflict with extending benefits, particularly with the language they’ve used.”

Proponents of the new policy said that they faced no significant organized opposition during the push to expand coverage to gay employees’ partners, despite the university’s Catholic identity.

Administrators established several specific criteria for judging whether or not a legally domiciled adult is financially interdependent with a university employee, according to Georgetown’s Human Resources Web site. To qualify for benefits, an individual must meet at least three of six listed requirements, including common ownership of a vehicle or proof of a joint bank account.

Jennifer Natalya Fink, an English professor who also worked on the original Faculty Senate resolution, said that the new policy was a “major and profound step forward” for gay faculty and staff.

“It took a great deal of work to craft the policy in a way that was acceptable,” Fink said. “It looks like a pretty good policy that is pretty much what we wanted.”

McCoy said that there are still major steps the university can take to equalize treatment of gay and straight employees, however.

“I think it’s a step in a positive direction,” he said.

“I don’t know if I would view it as a giant step toward acceptance, because the language that the university has decided to use” does not explicitly mention gay employees, he added. “It doesn’t reaffirm that there are queer faculty and staff here.”

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