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Stanford extends eligibility for benefits program

STANFORD -- President Gerhard Casper and the Stanford University Board of Trustees agreed Tuesday, Dec. 8, to extend benefits to employees' long-term same-sex domestic partners.

"The president and trustees reached strong agreement after deep- searching, thorough and wide-open discussion," said Barbara Butterfield, vice president for faculty and staff services. "It was an impressively thoughtful and careful examination of the issue."

Stanford, like most employers, gives some additional financial assistance to employees with families in recognition of their special financial needs, Butterfield said. While the day might come when employers would offer every employee benefits of exactly equal value, she said, at present Stanford remains committed to the principle of supporting married employees in supporting their families.

The trustees, she said, concluded that this policy should be extended to those employees who are gay or lesbian and who live in a committed, enduring relationship. The university did so as other employers - as well as state legislatures and the federal government, including the military - continued to examine the implications of the principle of nondiscrimination as applied to gays and lesbians.

"From the vantage point of maintaining a good working environment for all present and prospective employees," Butterfield said, "Stanford feels it should not treat differently its gay and lesbian employees who cannot obtain a legal sanction of their enduring partnership, though their commitment to the partnership is analogous to that involved in contemporary marriage relationships."

The university defined domestic partners as two individuals in an enduring relationship with exclusive mutual commitment and financial responsibilities analogous to those of marriage.

Starting Feb. 1, after the university finalizes structures to implement the decision, employees' same-sex domestic partners will be eligible for such benefits as health insurance, survivors' benefits, library privileges and the right to audit university courses.

Access to health insurance is a particularly important issue to employees who cannot obtain coverage for dependents by other means, such as marriage, Butterfield said. Without that access at the university, valuable employees might be forced to forgo professional opportunities at Stanford.

In extending benefits to same-sex domestic partners, the university joins such institutions, companies and governments as the University of Iowa, Lotus software and Bay Area Rapid Transit. Other employers are considering the action.

The costs of the benefits extension will be shared by the employee and the university under the existing cost-sharing formula. The university's annual share is estimated to be $100,000 out of a $24 million health care budget.

In spring 1991, the Faculty Senate took up the issue and asked for further study by a subcommittee of the University Committee on Faculty- Staff Benefits. After a year of exploration, the subcommittee in June 1992 issued a report, proposing benefits extension to domestic partners. The Faculty Senate voted Oct. 29 to endorse that report. While expressing priority for same-sex couples, that report added an endorsement for opposite-sex couples, which the board and president did not adopt.



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