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LOGAN - It's an issue that won't go away, and the Utah State University Faculty Senate said Monday it is ready and willing to talk about domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian employees.
A majority of the 50-plus group of professors, who represent all of the land-grant institution's colleges and extension programs, said they want to bring the controversial issue out from behind closed doors.
More than two-thirds of the group approved a motion to make all previously gathered information and opinion about domestic partner benefits, as well as all new data presented by faculty members, available online to university employees in anticipation of making a recommendation to USU President Stan Albrecht in the future.
Same-sex-partner benefits have been quietly debated on the campus for more than three years, but the Faculty Senate was denied the opportunity to discuss two specific domestic partner benefit proposals when the Faculty Senate Executive Committee killed them this spring, amid budget negotiations with state legislators.
In March, USU legal counsel Craig Simper said, Utah State University does not want to be the test case and does not intend to be the test case."
The University of Utah in Salt Lake City has since begun to offer insurance to same-sex partners, a benefit that is paid in full by the employee partner.
USU Faculty Senate Chairman Derek Mason told the group Monday that a petition recently initiated by Barry Franklin of the College of Education and Human Services was valid and that all 28 signatures had been verified for proper employment rank and authenticity.
Arguments for and against providing health benefits for same-sex partners began immediately Monday. Computer science professor Gregory Jones said some of the definitions of domestic partnership clearly run afoul of the amendment passed in Utah last November, which defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman.
Another faculty senator said marriage has nothing to do with the partner benefits issue, a case that is being made by the ACLU.
Given what goes on in the rest of the U.S., the number, I think, of same-sex domestic partners, would be under 10 for this university - more like 2 to 4, said Stephen Bialkowski, a chemistry professor. It came down to less than $1 per member per year to support that.
The committee will add new developments to its previous findings and post them online. Although some USU senators were skeptical of the online public dialogue, professor Dallas Holmes denounced censorship of the issue.
I would like to see that, as an institution of higher education, we accept the opportunity to receive knowledge as it continues to grow in this area.
Tom Schroeder said Salt Lake City's new policy has come under fire because the domestic partner benefits information was not available to the committee before the decision was made.