Monday, November 25, 2013

An Open Letter on Spousal Benefits

There are many reasons to be proud of being a Billiken.  Not the least of them has been its open and progressive tradition.  In the coming year, SLU will be able to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Father Heithaus’ call to integrate the university.  This was another of the important firsts to which our university lays claim.  This tradition is one of the things that attracted me to SLU as prospective faculty member and was the answer I gave to many when they questioned me on why I was going to work for a Catholic University.  In my 11th year of teaching here at SLU, I have unfortunately experienced firsthand that SLU is abandoning this tradition. 

In October I celebrated my fourth wedding anniversary.  I was married under a chuppah by a Rabbi (yes I am Jewish) in Massachusetts, I can show you both the wedding certificate and ketubbah.  When I returned to SLU I asked to have my husband added to my health insurance but was denied.  I was told that we weren’t married.  We have lived with that insult for four years, but things have changed.  This summer the Supreme Court struck down key features of DOMA which allowed our marriage to be recognized by the federal government.  In September, the Department of Labor sent out guidance that employers should base determinations of spouse on state of celebration instead of state of domicile.  In plain language, that means it doesn’t matter that Missouri continues to deny recognition as long as my marriage is legal in Massachusetts (which it is).  With these changes I again asked HR to extend coverage to my husband.  Again I was told that I wasn’t really married.  When I continued to press I was told that they had looked further into the matter and that SLU was not mandated to do so.
Was Father Heithaus mandated to initiate integration of SLU?  Have we turned our backs on social justice and caring for the whole person?  I fear we have.  My husband now tells me that he does not feel welcome on campus.  I can’t tell him otherwise and only wonder what I will tell the daughter we are expecting. 
I would also add that this position is inconsistent with more recently espoused goals to be the finest Catholic and a top-50 university.  For those of you who are thinking, but SLU is Catholic and the Church does not officially recognize same-sex marriage, I would point to the Jesuit institutions that do provide these benefits.  Of the 7 Jesuit universities recognized by US News and World Report as national universities, SLU is the only one that does not provide these benefits.  Overall, the majority of Jesuit universities do extend benefits to same sex spouses and/or domestic partners.  While it is true that many of these schools are in marriage equality states, several of these schools extended these benefits before being mandated.  Within the Midwest this includes both Marquette and Loyola Chicago. 
Looking beyond the Jesuits, here in the Saint Louis area, Washington University, Webster University, University of Missouri Saint Louis (UMSL), and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville all provide these benefits.  UMSL faculty and staff started receiving benefits this year when the Curators approved benefits for all 4 schools in the UM system, which also includes Columbia, Kansas City, and Rolla (now Science & Technology).  Other public universities in Missouri that provide these benefits include Truman, Missouri State, and my husband’s alma mater Central Missouri.

By saying that it is not mandated, SLU is turning its back on its history, mission, and strategy.  The time has come for SLU to be true to itself and do the right thing.  I want to be able to give my family the support and security they deserve.  I want to feel welcome on campus and to be a proud Billiken again.