OSU Offering Limited Employee Benefits To Same-Sex Couples

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The state's largest public university has extended some employee benefits, such as entry into certain group discount programs, to same-sex domestic partners of faculty and staff.

Ohio State University, however, still has refrained from providing medical, dental or vision coverage to domestic partners.

That would take approval by the university's board of trustees, which has resisted the idea.

Nick Maul, the university's director of benefits, said adding health coverage would be extremely expensive, especially with the school's tight budget.

"We're doing things that are no cost to the university," Maul said Tuesday. "We're trying to help people as much as possible without absorbing additional cost."

There are 164 private and public colleges and universities nationwide that offer some sort of domestic-partner benefits, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based organization fighting for equal rights for gays.

Faculty members who have fought for domestic-partner benefits said the move is a small step in the right direction to their ultimate goal -- health insurance coverage.

"The administration has shown it is sympathetic to our quest even though they have not been able to move the board of trustees," said Leila Rupp, chairwoman of the history department. "It's really clear that this isn't about cost but that it's about political opposition."

Ohio State's program doesn't require the university to pay any money, but allows domestic partners of faculty and staff to have access to certain programs. Those include financial planning services, a doctor referral service for international travelers, child care services, confidential counseling services and medical leave allowances.

Domestic partners also now can participate in employee discount programs, such as automobile-purchase plans offered by Ford and General Motors and alternative medicine discounts on acupuncture and yoga, Maul said.

The university made some of the benefits available last month. Others, such as life insurance for dependents, will begin in July, the next enrollment period.

Participants will have to pay for the insurance but now will get the university's group rate, Maul said.

"This is a very solid interim step that helps send a signal, especially to our gay and lesbian faculty and staff, that we are very interested, and that we are making some progress in this area," Larry Lewellen, Ohio State's associate vice president of human resources, told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.

The benefits are available to married couples, but some are not available to the domestic partners of unmarried, heterosexual couples, Lewellen said.

Trustee chairman David Brennan of Akron told the newspaper that he didn't believe the university had the right to extend benefits only to same-sex partners.

"We're a state agency and the state of Ohio doesn't recognize those relationships," Brennan said. "I expect to look into it."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)