Harper Examines Health Benefits for Same-Sex Partners No Discrimination against Gays Now in Policy

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Byline: Shruti Date Daily Herald Staff Writer

Harper College administrators have begun researching the possibility of providing health-care benefits for same-sex domestic partners of its employees.

Harper officials stressed, however, they are in a preliminary fact-finding mode; no decisions, directives or recommendations have been made about the issue.

The topic came up recently in part because Harper's board of trustees this week revised its equal employment opportunity and affirmative action policy to prohibit job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

And at least one trustee believes that means the college should offer health-care benefits to same-sex partners.

"I asked if by putting in sexual orientation that had we not decided inadvertently to extend health-care benefits?" said board member Leon Shure, who supports the measure. "I have and will encourage them to be thinking about it. I won't let it drop."

But prohibition of discrimination based upon sexual orientation does not mean an institution must or will provide health-care benefits to same-sex partners of its employees, said Rick Garcia, director of Equality Illinois. Equality Illinois, formerly known as the Illinois Federation of Human Rights, works to provide civil rights to gays and lesbians.

The college isn't technically discriminating against its gay and lesbian employees by not offering the benefits, as long as it offers health-care coverage only to married partners, said Lauren Raphael, an American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney. Illinois does not legally recognize the "marriage" of same-sex couples; in the United States, only Vermont does.

But still, the faculty members have said they might formally ask to have the measure considered. Harper's faculty senate officials said health-care benefits for same-sex partners could be one of many points brought up during contract negotiations early next year.

The faculty senate during contract negotiations in 1996 had asked the administration to broaden the employee health-care coverage to those who share their household, such as elderly parents, unmarried heterosexual partners and same-sex domestic partners.

"I think it was brought up as a broad category," said Harper professor George Evans, who was faculty senate president at the time. "Obviously, we were not successful."

But the topic has continued to come up at Harper during discussions about diversity. …