By Marty Finley
Domestic partner benefits has been a heavily-debated subject throughout the year both in Kentucky and throughout the nation. Legislators and citizens have butted heads concerning the possible ramifications of such policies, as well as misconceptions of what domestic partner benefits are. The topic grew especially pertinent between University of Kentucky and University of Louisville during the spring and summer as UK adopted the policy and legislators considered making it illegal at state-funded universities.
The topic reached Eastern Tuesday as students representing various groups, such as the Women’s Studies Program and the Pride Alliance, gathered to petition and call for change on campus.
“Our Web site claims we can have it all,” said Zana Durbin, vice president of the Pride Alliance. “That’s what we’re asking for.”
The event began on Powell corner earlier in the day as students stood outside in the cold passing out fliers and holding signs presenting the argument that equal rights was a necessity at Eastern.
Durbin said the project began in a class with only eight people, but grew exponentially once the Pride Alliance and her professor, who belongs to the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, got involved. As word spread, other groups, such as Student Government Association and the Honors Program, joined and the project gained legs leading to a proposal the groups recently pitched to Eastern President Doug Whitlock, Durbin said.
“It’s been kind of a grassroots movement that’s spread,” she said.
The rally in the ravine boasted five speakers representing different departments who all said domestic benefits are key for Eastern to grow as a university.
Richard Freed, a professor in the English department, said he was on the Board of Regents in 2000 when the faculty senate voted for equal benefits on campus, but the proposal was tabled and pushed aside.
“I was told by our current president at the time, Hanley Funderburk, that it was too expensive and it (basically disappeared),” he said.
He said the rally was a sermon to the converted, but it was a good thing to see so many groups united because a rally like this would not have been possible a few years ago.
“I (hesitate) to be a cockeyed optimist here, but I think people are more open minded (now),” he said.
Meg Gunderson, a professor of English, theatre and women studies, spoke on how the refusal of Eastern to address domestic benefits is blatant discrimination. She said the faculty senate was ready in 2000 to make it law, but the administration was not ready.
“It’s remarkable we have to be here at all.treating each EKU worker equally is, quite honestly, common sense,” Gunderson said.
She said the situation is usually blamed on money issues, but she claimed universities who already have domestic partner benefits add a maximum of 2 percent in expenses to their budgets.
And she said if that argument falls, they blame the insurer, Anthem, which Gunderson claimed bars insurance for domestic partners. She said Eastern should pressure Anthem to construct new policy permitting domestic benefits or seek a new insurer.
“It is common sense that discrimination is more costly than benefits to EKU,” she said.
Another topic discussed was the misconception that domestic benefits are a gay and lesbian issue when the benefits cover both opposite and same sex couples who are unmarried and share a life together.
Gunderson said people shouldn’t be excluded because of whom they live with or love.
In addition to the speakers, people were encouraged to sign a petition that would be presented to Whitlock.
Durbin said Whitlock was intrigued by their proposal, which also included the past documents from 2000 and UK’s domestic partner plan. Durbin said Whitlock promised to present the issue to the Board of Regents in the future.
As Durbin addressed the crowd, she illustrated how the absence of domestic benefits could also affect students.
“How many professors have not come to EKU (because of this)?” Durbin asked the crowd. “How many people have looked at our school and not even applied?