Defining ‘spouse’

Photo illustration by Hannah Fowl/The News Spouses of people who work at the University can get a Wellness Center membership at a discounted rate. This doesn’t currently include same-sex couples.
Photo illustration by Hannah Fowl/The News Spouses of people who work at the University can get a Wellness Center membership at a discounted rate. This doesn’t currently include same-sex couples.

Photo illustration by Hannah Fowl/The News
Spouses of people who work at the University can get a Wellness Center membership at a discounted rate. This doesn’t currently include same-sex couples.

 

 

Citing discriminatory wording in the Wellness Center’s membership eligibility policy, the LGBT Programming Advisory Committee filed a letter with the Office of Student Affairs recommending it be revised.

According to the letter of recommendation sent by the president of the LGBT Programming Advisory Committee, Peggy Munke, the Wellness Center’s policy on purchasing memberships does not extend benefits to same-sex partners of University staff and faculty.

It is the use of the word “spouse” in the Wellness Center’s policy which the committee would like to see amended, as this word has a legal definition which does not apply to partners in a same-sex relationship.

As it is currently worded on the Wellness Center’s website, “Spouse of student, faculty, staff and retiree and alumni members can purchase a membership at the same level as the primary member.”

This allows spouses to pay the same reduced rate for a semester or summer membership as their partner working at the University.

Munke said this issue was first brought to her and the committee’s attention approximately a year ago, but at the time was not deemed to be a priority.

“There are always a number of issues of which we are aware,” she said. “However, we work to get one issue resolved before we work on another. We work incrementally. There were several other issues that had priority over this one. Those issues have now been resolved so we were ready to confront this issue.”

Along with bringing the issue to the Office of Student Affair’s attention, the committee also sent its Student Government Association representative, Norman Franklin III, to speak with SGA and to gain its support.

This was the first year the SGA representative position was filled on the advisory committee, despite it being available for several years.

Michael Dobbs, president of SGA, said from the discussion following Franklin’s request, he believes the vast majority of the senate had no problem with a change of the policy to include same-sex partners, although no official vote was taken.

Dobbs said he is not entirely sure what the policy is regarding the use of the center by staff and faculty, but that he does not feel anyone has been intentionally excluded.

“It takes pointing things out to make changes and that is what is being done here,” Dobbs said. “I am confident that the individual(s) charged with making changes to the Wellness Center’s policy will do what is in the best interest for everyone.”

Jody Cofer Randall, LGBT Program Coordinator, said as SGA’s response was reported by Franklin, there seemed to be confusion in SGA as to whether the Wellness Center’s policy already allowed for a general “plus one” admittance policy, which same-sex partners of University students and personnel could benefit from.

Cofer Randall said he does not believe the Wellness Center’s policy to be deliberately discriminatory and the over sight may be due to the time at which the policy was made.

“One could say we should have a massive study of all the University benefits as they relate to partners,” he said. “The committee felt this was something which it would be easy to make a case for and when the administration looks at it they’ll see the inequity in the policy.”

The committee sent its letter of recommendation to Student Affairs two weeks ago.

Hannah Fowl/The News A student walks on the treadmill at the Wellness Center.

Hannah Fowl/The News
A student walks on the treadmill at the Wellness Center.

Cofer Randall said the committee has yet to receive any additional feedback on how the problem is being addressed other than an email from Mike Young, associate vice president of Student Affairs, confirming he had received their letter.

Young said there are two possible ways this issue may be addressed.

Either the issue will be brought before the University Benefit Committee who will have to make a ruling, or, depending on what sort of language the University has already adopted regarding other policies, updating the Wellness Center’s policy would only be a matter of time.

“I think the University’s policy as it relates to health insurance and things like that already includes the word ‘partner,’” Young said. “If that is the case then this (change) would be an easy thing to do because we are already on that page allowing partners to purchase insurance for their significant other.”

Young said Murray State’s department of Human Resources is in the process of reviewing several of the University’s positions as they relate to same-sex partners looking for discrepancies in wording, including this new case.

He said he believes the policy’s wording is not intentionally discriminatory and that, to his knowledge, no one has been denied the purchase of a membership for this reason.

 

Story by Ben Manhanke, Staff writer