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Ohio State trustees approve resolution to require marriage for same-sex couples’ employee benefits

Members of the Ohio State Board of Trustees passed a resolution, which will be voted on Friday, that would require marriage for same-sex couples employed at the university to receive benefits including medical, dental and vision insurance.

If approved Friday, the new standard would be effective Jan. 1, 2018. There is an exception for faculty and their dependents who have enrolled in the plan before Dec. 31, 2017, who will be given coverage through the 2018 year.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2019, no unmarried same-sex couples will be eligible for benefits.  

The resolution was introduced Thursday in a talent and compensation meeting, and spurred a conversation on what equality means for employees of the university.

Benefits for unmarried same-sex couples were first approved in 2004, 11 years before the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage throughout the country. Various Board members said after the decision in 2015, the university has not been equal in terms of giving unmarried same-sex couples benefits they were not giving unmarried heterosexual couples.

“We have looked at this (resolution) carefully and the primary philosophical issue is one around equality,” said Joanne McGoldrick, the associate vice president for total rewards within OSU’s Office of Human Resources. “So at this point we have not been equal. We equaled the playing field in 2004 but now we’re unequal.”

McGoldrick said if the university tried to equalize this practice and cover heterosexual unmarried couples in coverage, it would cost it $3-$5 million each year, according to census data and actuarial work. According to the same data, there would be 400-800 dependents, as well. 

She said currently there are 98 unmarried same-sex couples who receive medical coverage based on previous legislation, 110 total receive benefits also including tuition.

Dr. Janet Reid, vice chair of the Board, argued the subtleties that surround LGBTQ communities are often not recognized by those who are not advocates or who do not identify as belonging to one of the categories.

After explaining each acronym of LGBTQ — lesbian meaning a female is attracted to a female, gay meaning a male is attracted to a male, bisexual meaning a person is attracted to each gender, transgender meaning a person born as one sex identifies as the other sex, queer meaning a sexual minority — to the Board, Reid said her grandson is transgender, and reflected on the hardships some same-sex couples face.

“Most of the people who fall into this group of letter experience discrimination on a regular basis and family rejection is one of the most painful parts of that discrimination,” Reid said.

Dr. Janet Reid (left), vice chair of the Board of Trustees, discusses the hardships some LGBTQ couples face. Credit: Summer Cartwright | Campus Editor

She said that a form of discrimination that same-sex couples experience more so than heterosexual couples revolves around marriage.

“When you get here, sometimes families can halfway accept what is until it comes to marriage,” Reid said. “And then the families have a feeling that marriage is an issue of a sanctity — something that’s granted by God — and going over the line to get married is just too far, and that’s where the rejection comes.”

She said because of this, same-sex couples sometimes choose not to get married in order to avoid this discrimination.

“When we are speaking of equality in terms of benefits meaning not offering any kind of unmarried couple these benefits, it is equal verbally, except for the circumstances around the choice of not getting married,” Reid said.

While the Board voted in support of the resolution, some members’ support wasn’t entirely there.

“I can say OK but OK for now. But not OK forever,” Jerry Jurgensen, vice chair of the Board, said. “It can be an OK for now vote, but I think this is something the university needs to continue to ponder, work on, discuss.”

The Board also voted to approve the appointment of Susan Basso, senior vice president of talent, culture and human resources beginning Sept. 5 and reappointment of Geoffrey Chattas as senior vice president and chief financial officer of business and finance, which began Feb. 14, 2017 and goes through Feb. 13, 2020.

Additionally, the Board overviewed the Executive Transition Acceleration Program for new members, a guide to help new executives focus on top priorities, build relationships, tailor their leadership style and generate new agenda.

After a little over an hour of conversations, the Board began their executive session, which is closed to the public.

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