Spouse: a word which, depending on who you ask and even what state you live in, can have several different meanings.
Kentucky’s limiting definition of what constitutes being a “spouse” carried impact across the state.
It sparked concern at Murray State earlier this semester that same-sex couples working for the University might be excluded from certain benefits. Traditionally, those same benefits had been given to heterosexual couples employed by the University.
Following a meeting between Mike Young, associate vice president of Student Affairs, Joyce Gordon, director of Human Resources, Jody Cofer Randall, LGBT Program Coordinator, and Steve Leitch, director of Campus Recreation, the policy was changed to read “spouse/partner” before the week before Thanksgiving break..
In September, Murray State’s LGBT Programming Advisory Committee filed a letter with Student Affairs asking that the membership eligibility policy for the Wellness Center be revised.
The Wellness Center’s policy allowed for spouses of students, faculty and staff to purchase a membership from the center at a reduced rate. Due to the policy’s use of the word “spouse,” the committee believed the center to be unintentionally discriminating against same-sex partners.
Leitch said no same-sex spouses were ever turned away because of their policy’s wording prior to the change.
“I’ve always defined the word spouse to include same-sex couples, domestic partnerships and civil unions,” he said. “The rewording was to make sure that everyone understood this and that some people weren’t defining spouse different than other people.”
As defined by Kentucky’s state constitution, a spouse is not a generic term for your significant other, but rather a word meaning your heterosexual partner to whom you are married.
Leitch said the meeting held prior to the change in wording was “short and sweet” and there was no argument between the four parties as to what should be done.
This was not the first updating and revising of University policy this semester.
Prior to focusing on the Wellness Center’s membership eligibility, the LGBT Programing Advisory Committee already petitioned the Board of Regents to alter the wording of Murray State’s benefit policy regarding tuition waivers.
Cofer Randall said, following the Wellness Center’s change of policy, he would like to examine the wording of all of eligibility criteria for benefits offered by the University to make sure there is no other unintentional discrimination.
“Most of the University’s policies were written back when Murray State wasn’t talking about (benefits for same-sex employees),” Cofer Randall said. “This isn’t to say Murray State was wrong or doing something bad. That was just the times.”
Another issue still unresolved for some LGBT faculty and staff is the provision of subsidized health insurance, Cofer Randall said.
While the University does provide health insurance options for same-sex couples wishing to purchase it through Murray State, they are unable to offer a reduced rate as state funds cannot be used in recognizing same-sex partnerships underneath Kentucky’s state constitution.
For the three levels of coverage Murray State provides, heterosexual couples can pay either $19.30, $120 or $255.80 as opposed to same-sex couples who must pay $368.29, $419.60 or $478.02 for health insurance.
Cofer Randall said he knows of no same-sex couples who purchase their insurance through the University.
“It’s so expensive,” Cofer Randall said. “It’s almost discriminatory to dangle it in front of our faces because you know we can’t afford it.”
Story by Ben Manhanke, Staff writer