EKU domestic partner benefits
I’d like to express my appreciation for the letters responding to my views on EKU’s sponsored dependent (domestic partner) benefit. It’s gratifying to see the interest of students, staff, and professors in such an important issue. Let me respond to two of the recurrent themes: the undermining of marriage and the nature of marriage itself.
How do these benefits undermine marriage? My point is that policies create incentives and norms that cannot avoid influencing behavior and beliefs. When, for example, the speed limit was raised to 70 miles per hour from 55 more drivers drove fast and more drivers believed that it was not merely legal but morally permissible to drive at higher speeds. In this case, the policy damages the important understanding that marriage between one man and one woman is a foundational institution of our society. When the university extends a package of benefits similar to marriage benefits to unmarried couples it encourages unmarried couples to live together and it sends the message that such an arrangement carries a certain moral status. The result is that fewer people will marry or value marriage. If we do not want unmarried couples to form ongoing sexual relationships rather than getting married and if we do not want our society to think of such relationships as being morally equivalent to marriage, we should not incentivize such behavior.
What exactly is marriage? My critics seem to believe that marriage is whatever we want it to be. They want to redefine the institution without regard to physical and moral reality. I simply assert that we have no such right. There are many sorts of relationships in the world, but there’s only one-the relationship between a man and a woman-that results in children. To safeguard those most vulnerable human beings, society binds the husband and wife together in the institution of marriage. The web of privileges and responsibilities inherent in marriage allows the mother and father to nurture and protect their children. No other relationship needs the status of marriage because no other relationship plays the same role; at the same time, no other relationship should be called a marriage if it cannot fulfill the specific function of marriage. I should also point out that the frequent mention of marriage in the letters confirms that my critics do indeed view the benefit as conferring a status substantially similar to marriage. It was not President Whitlock’s intention, but his policy is seen by many as a step toward the very redefinition of marriage that our constitution prohibits. Todd Hartch
Animal Rights and Peter Singer
I wanted to respond to the article that described Peter Singer’s recent visit to EKU. There are a few details in the article that needed clearing up. First, the author of the article made a spelling error. A mature female pig is a sow, not a “sal” as the author had spelled it. Also the author confused veal calves with “dairy milk”.
Furthermore, I want to remind readers that animal welfare is a huge priority of livestock producers. I raise beef cattle and I know that we make choices keeping what is best for the animal in mind. Sows are kept in farrowing crates when and after they give birth because when they aren’t in a crate they have some pretty nasty behaviors. Sows will often roll over on their piglets and smother them or even eat their own piglets.
So pork producers keep their sows in farrowing crates to prevent the sows from killing their piglets. Is that not keeping the welfare of the piglets in mind? Farmers are the true animal welfare activists and the first conservationists. They are the people who are actually out working with animals and with the land. So I want to ask all readers, students, and Kentuckians to make sure you know what the facts are before you make a judgment about agriculture. If you have a question about animal agriculture ask the people who work with animals on a daily basis; not someone like Peter Singer who is an ethics professor. Ask someone who has raised livestock for generations. Ask someone like me.
Critical thinking undermines Dr. Hartch’s concerns about domestic partner benefits
In his letter to the editor of the Progress, Dr. Todd Hartch offers three reasons to oppose domestic partner benefits at EKU: they undermine marriage, they are illegal, and they are financially ruinous for EKU. I hope to show, by taking Dr. Hartch’s concerns seriously, that none are effective reasons for denying domestic partner benefits at EKU.
The first reason given, clearly the most influential in his thinking, is that “the sponsored dependent (domestic partner) benefit . . . undermines marriage.” It does this because it “endorses the practice of unmarried couples living together and confers marriage-like benefits to them.”
Now, for something A to “undermine” something B, A needs to erode, weaken or subvert B. Marriage provides multiple benefits (well more than 4) to married couples, and providing 4 benefits for domestic partners is not taking away any of these multiple benefits married couples receive. (The 4 benefits mentioned are the possibility of health care coverage for the partner upon payment, a tuition scholarship that can be used by the partner if not used by the EKU worker, and sick leave and bereavement leave for the EKU employee in relation to the partner’s illness or death.) I cannot see how any given marriage is either eroded, weakened, or subverted by providing these 4 benefits to domestic partners. Dr. Hartch may mean that the institution of marriage is undermined by providing benefits to couples even if they are not married. But this clearly means different things for heterosexual couples than for homosexual couples, so they need to be examined separately. For heterosexual couples, providing these 4 benefits may stop these couples from marrying. This seems implausible to me, as there are so many legal, financial and social benefits to marriage that I find it hard to believe that heterosexual couples would weigh the domestic partner benefits as part of their reason for avoiding marriage. However, for those heterosexual couples who engage in extensive money-management, and who find that the minimal benefit accrued from the domestic partner benefits might tip them away from marriage, I can see how there might be a few less marriages, and in that sense (a quantitative sense), marriage as an institution might be eroded. However, I suspect that these are not the types of people Dr. Hartch would want as exemplars of the married state anyway. Consequently, I do not believe that their avoidance of marriage would erode the institution of marriage, but
rather that it would support the ideal of the institution of marriage as more than a financial arrangement between heterosexual parties.
Homosexual couples, by contrast to heterosexual couples, do not have the possibility of marrying in Kentucky (as Dr. Hartch notes in his second point), so the existence of domestic partner benefits to homosexual couples cannot undermine the institution of marriage, because homosexual couples are not part of that institution. Perhaps Dr. Hartch believes that, in providing domestic partner benefits to EKU employees, EKU will, in some cases, be acknowledging the existence of same-sex couples. The only way I can see that this acknowledgment might weaken or subvert the institution of marriage is that some people might become aware of another option to heterosexual marriage, and choose that option over heterosexual marriage, thereby eroding (in a quantitative sense) the institution of marriage by diminishing the number of marriages. Thus, for EKU to avoid undermining the institution of marriage, homosexual couples should not be acknowledged, as the acknowledgment of their existence may make them appear to be a viable option to marriage. But this seems unlikely: almost everyone is aware that there a
re homosexual couples, so acknowledgment of this fact cannot make them any more alluring to potentially marriage-engaging people than they were already. Perhaps Dr. Hartch would suggest that individuals in homosexual couples should aid the institution of marriage by becoming nonexistent, by either (a) having each member of the couple find a heterosexual person to marry, regardless of the fact that they do not find themselves in love with that person and experience no sexual desire for the person, or (b) having the couple separate from each other and remain alone, so as to avoid making homosexual coupling alluring to others who might otherwise marry. Neither option seems appealing for homosexual couples, but the first option would seem to undermine marriage, as it would
introduce loveless and sexless couplings into married life, and thereby show most emphatically that marriage is not based on love or sexual desire at all, but is merely a compulsory aspect of living where and when we do. The second option seems also to undermine marriage, but more subtly, because it suggests that love and sexual desire should not be our guide in looking for a life partner; rather, our concern should be to uphold the institution of marriage, no matter what the costs for our happiness. But if marriage per se, rather than love and sexual desire, is what should motivate us to marry, then love and sexual desire need not be part of marriage, which, in my view, makes the married state rather undesirable, whatever the financial rewards.
Dr. Hartch’s claim is, as noted above, further elaborated in his writing that the domestic partner benefit “endorses the practice of unmarried couples living together.” It seems to me that it does no such thing, although I can see why someone might believe that it does, in the same way that someone might believe that giving greater tax breaks to the wealthy endorses being wealthy. It seems to me that, in providing domestic partner benefits, EKU is saying that it has no right to intrude into the lives of its faculty and staff, and has no right to require that I marry someone I live with. However, let us examine this statement in relation to the two types of couple. With homosexual couples, there can be no “endorsement” of them living together as opposed to being married, because they cannot marry.
Endorsement suggests that there is another option, as when we endorse one candidate over another, and for homosexual couples there is no other option if they wish to remain together. So once again it would appear that it is heterosexual unmarried couples that provoke Dr. Hartch’s concern. This is good to know, as otherwise I would think that he was a homophobe, or that he believed that homosexual couplings were somehow “less” than or “impoverished” compared to heterosexual couplings. Rather, it appears that unmarried heterosexual couples are the impoverished ones in his view, which is certainly true in terms of the benefits that they are willingly forgoing by remaining unmarried. The only obvious difference that I can see across
heterosexual couples and homosexual couples, other than the difference in same vs. opposite sex coupling, is that heterosexual couples have the option to marry, whereas homosexual couples do not. (Remember, some heterosexual couples are infertile and cannot produce children, some do not desire children, and some homosexual couples have children, so the existence of children in the
relationship cannot be an essential difference between the two types of couples.)
Dr. Hartch also proposes, in a point that straddles his first and second concerns, that the domestic partner benefit “confers marriage-like benefits to them,” i.e., unmarried couples living together. But what makes these benefits “marriage-like” is uncertain. How many benefits that married, but not unmarried, couples obtain must one receive for the benefits to be “marriage-like”? Let’s imagine a couple who received the 4 domestic partner benefits. Does the couple receive other benefits of the married state? Kentucky law offers married couples joint property rights, inheritance rights, tax benefits, the ability to make health care decisions without an advanced directive, the ability to adopt a child together, as well as other benefits. As there are so many benefits that married couples receive that unmarried couples do not, I do not believe that receiving a few similar benefits makes these benefits “marriage-like.” In addition, one of the 4 benefits, the scholarship, is not something that is a benefit of marriage: a child of a faculty or staff member who has never married has always been able to use this benefit, such that it cannot be perceived as a “marriage-like” benefit.
From the preceding, it should be clear that Dr. Hartch’s idea that the conferring
of domestic partner benefits undermines either marriage or the institution of
marriage does not hold up under scrutiny. I hope that I have alleviated Dr. Hartch’s
concern here through an analysis of what he presented in his letter to the editor.
Emphatically, the domestic partner benefits offered by EKU do not undermine
marriage, nor do they endorse the practice of unmarried couples living together, or
confer “marriage-like” benefits. The second concern of Dr. Hartch is that EKU is doing something illegal in conferring domestic partner benefits, and he would have to include the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, and Western Kentucky University as violators as well. According to Dr. Hartch, in conferring domestic partner benefits, EKU and other universities are recognizing, or accepting as valid, a legal status of the conferees as “identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals.” As noted above in, there is no way that domestic partner benefits provide a legal status “identical” to marriage, as unmarried couples cannot adopt as a couple, receive tax benefits, etc. So it depends on what is required to make the legal status “substantially similar” between married and unmarried couples; but as noted above, the vast number of differences between married and unmarried couples makes any similarities created by the obtaining of domestic partner benefits seem rather minor.
Actually, I do not see how any legal status at all is created by the domestic partner benefit. To receive the domestic partner benefit, one person must “share a primary
residence” with an EKU employee. Whether EKU confers domestic partner benefits or not to unmarried couples, they would still continue to share a primary residence. Dr. Hartch points out that the proposed partner must not be a relative (again, this is not providing a legal status), and the EKU employee must sign a form indicating that they have a “sponsored dependent relationship.” But the dependent relationship is one that the two individuals have independent of whether or not they sign a form saying that they have that relationship. So it is not clear to me that, in getting me to sign a form that indicates the truth-that I live with someone I am not married to-EKU is creating a legal status for me. So perhaps it is the “sponsored” part that is the problem. But EKU’s sponsoring the benefit is simply indicating that they are providing the benefit, not that they are sponsoring the relationship. EKU is not providing a match-making service.
Dr. Hartch, as a final appeal that the domestic partner benefit confers legal status, asks “why can’t the sponsored dependent be a relative or a child”? The
issue of the sponsored dependent being a child is already taken care of-the 4
benefits to be received are already given to our children, so there is not need to
specify them, and the proposed benefits are also for the partner’s children, should
they live full-time with the couple. So the issue of a relative is the only issue left for the second concern here. And I agree with Dr. Hartch here (though his concern that
we offer domestic partner benefits to still more individuals seems to conflict with
his third point about the lack of funding available). If my parents were living with
me, and they were unable to obtain good health insurance on their own, I would want to include them as a sponsored dependent so that I could get them health
benefits. But we are each allowed only one sponsored dependent, and including one’s parents or other relatives as domestic partners raises a series of concerns
relating to Dr. Hartch’s third concern: money.
EKU just doesn’t have the money to support domestic partner benefits, in Dr.
Hartch’s view, although we are told, in information from the university, that
“there is no financial impact to adding sponsored dependents to EKU’s health
plan,” presumably because the EKU employee pays for the benefit to his or her
partner. (In fact, contrary to what the university says, adding domestic partner
benefits may actually diminish costs because adding more individuals to a
group plan usually decreases the amount each individual pays. Thus, EKU’s prescient adding of domestic partner benefits has probably reduced the price of everyone’s health insurance.) Dr. Hartch apparently disbelieves the university’s statement and, in his view, we are, as it were, sticking it up the nose of our state government by sponsoring such a program. One way we could alleviate any potential financial burden, and show state government that we do not want to create any financial burdern to the state, is to stop allowing married EKU employees to give their staff tuition scholarship to their partner or children, and of course not allow domestic partners or their children to receive them either. In that way, EKU will save many thousands of dollars per person (as Dr. Hartch points out, over $3,000 per person), and allow us all to share the other three perks that, so far, only married couples have been able to obtain.
I hope I have quelled Dr. Hartch’s concerns about extending domestic partner benefits to unmarried EKU employees. If you share my belief that Dr. Hartch has not provided good reasons to avoid extending domestic partner benefits to unmarried couples, and believe instead that such benefits should be extended to
others even if they are unwilling to conform to societal pressures to marry,
please contact President Whitlock and the Board of Regents. It is important, in this
age of religious intolerance and irrational wars, to stand up for reasoned thinking,
and to help others to do the same by correcting their erroneous beliefs. Remember, EKU is a teaching institution and, as the faculty/staff tuition scholarship reminds us, all of us, even faculty, are capable of learning.
Robert W. Mitchell
Foundation Professor, Psychology
My esteemed colleague, Professor Todd Hartch, created something of a fire storm with his letter questioning the granting of partner benefits at EKU. Of course he is wrong on all counts, but I wish to assure faculty and staff that he is a reasonable Republican and no one should interpret his views as mean spirited. He is a
wonderful teacher and scholar who does not force his perspective on anyone, most
especially students. I have all the respect in the world for him.
Fifty years ago, I was wrongheaded too; I voted for Richard Nixon.
Professor of History
Domestic partnership benefits
I would like to thank Dr. Todd Hartch for his giving voice to the many faculty, staff and students who feel exactly as he does about domestic partnership benefits. I really question the type of stewardship EKU is showing with the limited resources entrusted to it by the citizens of Kentucky. I also wonder how long citizens will stand by as we ridicule their values.
Recently, all faculty and staff received a letter from the EKU Human Resources Office. In the letter, we were informed that our health insurance premiums would be going up and that EKU would be extending domestic partnership benefits. We were also reminded in the letter that the University health plan is self-funded. Included with the letter was the contact information for the Medicaid and CHIP programs. The message seemed to be, “Move your child out of our self-funded pool because EKU has more politically correct priorities to address.”
The taxpayers have made their opinion known on this issue. Is it fair for a few “Intellectual Elites” to impose their moral views on the rest of Kentucky by forcing them to pay for something they clearly oppose? Shame on EKU.