December 2, 2005

 

University of Florida approves domestic partner benefits for employees

A story published today in the Sarasota Herald Tribune reports that University of Florida's employees will receive health insurance benefits for their domestic partners under a measure approved Friday by the school's Board of Trustees.

The vote was 12-1 making UF the state's only public university to approve such a policy, covers same-sex partners as well as unmarried straight couples. Married employees have long been able to insure their spouses.

UF President Bernie Machen said he thought the measure would be important for both recruiting and keeping faculty members.

"This is not just about the people who need this benefit. This is also about people who consider the benefit a statement of the climate of the campus where they are going to work," Machen said.

Machen said two faculty members left Florida because it did not have such a policy.

Texas businessman Al Warrington, the only trustee to vote against the proposal, called it "immoral, unethical and clearly non-scriptural. It's an abomination."

Warrington, a huge donor to the school, said plans to use University of Florida Foundation funds to pay for the program, estimated to cost between $500,000 to $1 million a year, could cut contributions to the school.

"As one donor, I would be offended if my money went to fund the program," Warrington said. The university's school of business is named after him.

"I think it could be a real negative. It is for me and it could be for others and I am a very significant donor."

Kyle Cavanaugh, UF's vice president of human resources who started similar programs at Rice and Vanderbilt universities, said about 300 universities and colleges nationally offer such benefits. Those wanting to participate in the program, which begins Feb. 1, will have to sign an affidavit requesting the benefit and be able to prove they are in a committed relationship. Like married couples, they will have to pay a portion of the premium.

"Primarily, the issue is one of national competitiveness," he said. "We are trying to be as competitive as possible on the national scene."

A similar measure was tabled by the trustees in June 2003, said Steve Orlando, a university spokesman.

At Friday's meeting, there was no mention of a letter by state Rep. Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, who asked the trustees to turn down the proposal. Cretul did not attend the meeting.

Cretul plans to introduce a bill prohibiting the use of taxpayer money for extending benefits to domestic partners.

"This proposed change is very troubling to me, many of my colleagues in the Legislature, and to the vast majority of taxpayers in the state of Florida," his letter said.

An official with a national gay rights group applauded the vote.

"It's wonderful to see the University of Florida to take a leadership role, stepping out and doing the right thing," said Karen Doering, regional counsel for the National Center for Lesbian Rights in Tampa.

"This will help them attract and retain the best candidates and the best and brightest students," she said.

About 295 colleges and universities offer domestic partner benefits, but approximately half are private institutions - including the University of Miami, Stetson University and Rollins College in Florida. Three Florida community colleges also offer domestic partner benefits.

Of the country's top 10 universities as ranked by U.S. News & World Report magazine, five offer domestic partner benefits and five do not, according to The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay and lesbian civil rights group.

UF has about 49,000 students and 12,000 faculty and staff members.