Point: Same-sex benefits make economic sense
And so Pennsylvania has U.S. Senator Rick ?I have no problem with homosexuality ? I have a problem with homosexual acts? Santorum (R?Pa.), and University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, who for years would occasionally descend from his ivory tower to pay lip service to his respect for diversity while supporting policies that ensured that homosexuals would remain second-class citizens.
While Pitt has recently decided to grant health benefits to homosexual couples, it is difficult to forget what happened along the way.
The campaign for change formally began with a 1996 discrimination lawsuit by the Greater Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which was initiated on behalf of a group of seven current and former university employees. They wanted nothing more radical than to have Pitt ? ?an institution so deeply committed to advancing the cause of human health,? according to Nordenberg ? provide medical coverage to their domestic partners the same way it did for heterosexual couples.
The university responded in a way typical of powerful institutions that seek ways to flout legality: It preempted the lawsuit. Pitt won a temporary order that prevented the Commission on Human Relations from even hearing the case. That temporary order became permanent earlier this year with a January 12 ruling.
The general basis for the permanent order was a 1999 law that Pitt had, not surprisingly, lobbied the state to pass. So much for justice being blind.
That law held that state-related colleges and universities ? e.g., Pitt ? would not have to provide health benefits because of municipal laws. In other words, Pitt was able to lobby the state to pass a law which allowed it to not have to comply with existing municipal law, which barred discrimination based on sexual orientation. This is known as pursuing ?other avenues for more collegially and effectively dealing with the matter,? in Nordenberg?s wording. What, after all, in the university?s eternal quest for human enlightenment, could be more ?collegial? and ?effective? than promoting legislation to exempt itself from its own city?s civil rights ordinance?
The claims made along the way have been equally disturbing. Opponents of the domestic partner benefits argued that homosexuals were asking for special treatment. Prior to the struggle for domestic partner health coverage, most health plans only covered ?married? couples. This is, however, a classic Catch-22. The same groups who say you need to be married to receive coverage, such as the Christian Coalition of America, are also opposed to gay marriage and civil unions. If we don?t allow homosexuals to marry, and we only provide health benefits to those who are married, then how do we expect homosexuals to obtain health coverage?
After years of ignoring such dilemmas, Nordenberg gallantly recognized his past wrongs and took the brave step of issuing the decision to grant domestic partner benefits by burying it in the middle of a September 1 university memo and couching his reasoning to grant those benefits in purely economic terms.
Noting that same-sex benefits are now being offered by most of Pitt?s peer institutions, Nordenberg made it clear that he was responding to competitive, and not moral, pressures.
Given historical precedent, it is not surprising that Pitt, or any other similar institution, would bask in its discriminatory bliss for so long. Just as it took decades of legal struggle and activism for African-Americans to win the basic civil rights for which they struggled so valiantly, it has been a long and protracted campaign to bring about the granting of same-sex benefits.
And despite Pitt?s reluctance, and the fact that it has made the right choice for only competitive reasons, it shines in comparison to the several other local universities that fail to rise to even that level.
Duquesne University, Robert Morris University, and Carlow College, resisting a call to join the twenty-first century, currently offer no such benefit packages for their employees.
In failing to do so, they are callously ignoring a simple point: Regardless of how one feels about homosexuals, same-sex benefits make clear factual sense for all but the most diehard social conservative who lacks even the faintest pretense of economic rationality ? a category that apparently includes the administrative bodies of those schools.