Graduate students propose extending partner services



Ten years ago, Yale decided to extend to homosexual domestic partners the full benefits previously given only to married couples. At the time, Yale’s decision was “really progressive,” Jason Marshall SOM ’04, the president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate. But now, graduate and professional students want the University to make an even more progressive move.

The GPSS and the Graduate Student Assembly are asking for certain benefits granted to homosexual couples to be given to unmarried but committed heterosexual couples in an attempt to balance issues of fairness and feasibility.

Currently, spouses or same-sex domestic partners of Yale graduate and professional students are eligible for coverage under the Yale Health Plan as well as Yale affiliate identification cards, as long as they provide their own valid IDs and proof of marriage or domestic partner registration. Each card gives its holder privileges such as access to the Yale Transit shuttle, the Payne Whitney Gymnasium and the University’s library system.

This fall, the GPSS and the Graduate Student Assembly passed resolutions asking the University for student affiliate IDs and the benefits they confer to be available to heterosexual domestic partners as well. But Jordan Yelinek GRD ’08, who sponsored the proposal in the GPSS, said the group is asking the University to provide the benefits “without in any way compromising its ability to provide the same benefits for married couples and homosexual domestic partners.”

Yale Provost Susan Hockfield and University Health Services Director Paul Genecin both said Yale sees the situation as different for heterosexual and homosexual couples.

“The University’s view is that heterosexual partners have the option to wed and become eligible for health benefits whereas same-sex domestic partners do not have that option,” Genecin said.

But according to students, many heterosexual couples fit the criteria that define homosexual “long-term committed relationships” — except the requirement that both partners be of the same gender. Some couples simply do not want to marry because they do not believe in marriage or for various reasons are not willing to take that step.

Marriage could now become an option even for some homosexual couples, Marshall said, pointing to neighboring Massachusetts, where the state supreme court ruled this fall that gays and lesbians have the right to marry.

He also said some unmarried heterosexual couples get around the current system.

“People are lying. They say they are married and they are already obtaining IDs for their girlfriends,” Marshall said.

Hockfield, the University’s chief academic and financial officer and former dean of the Graduate School, said the resolution raises a larger issue than simple logistics.

“[The motion] really does bring forth the whole question of how we define who has access to Yale services,” Hockfield said.

According to Marshall, the answer to that question is simple: the administration should encourage long-term domestic partners, heterosexual and homosexual alike, to become active members of the Yale community.

“What people want is to be part of the community. If you live in New Haven and you are not part of the community, it is an inferior experience,” said Marshall, who considers access to the buses, the gym and the libraries “key” to fostering a sense of Yale identity.

Yelinek agreed that access to these resources is important.

“We don’t live in a metropolitan area where there is easy, accessible and affordable public transportation, etc.,” Yelinek said. “Arguably, we have one of the best libraries in the world but even long-term partners don’t have access.”

The administration does not have an official position on the issue of benefits for heterosexual domestic partners. But Graduate School Dean Peter Salovey said the GPSS proposal is “under discussion.”

GSA chairman Chris Mason speculated that the University will reach a final decision by the end of the semester at the latest and said he hopes students’ partners will be able to take advantage of their newly acquired benefits in the summer.

“I am very optimistic that [the proposal] will pass in its current form,” Mason said.

Financial concerns could stand in the plan’s way. Extending to heterosexual domestic partners all the benefits given to homosexual domestic partners — including health coverage –Êwould be costly. But according to the proposal, the cost of extending only ID card benefits to heterosexual domestic partners would be negligible because the new card holders would use the facilities at different times. For example, the proposal estimates that an average of four additional people would use the gym at any given moment.

“The marginal cost of adding a small population to a service is zero or minimal,” said Marshall. He described the additional services as “of high benefit to us and low cost to the University.”

Marshall said he thinks the University is concerned that extending ID card benefits could be like opening a Pandora’s box — given this new precedent, the students would soon ask for health benefits.

According to data compiled by the GPSS itself, 80 of the Fortune 500 companies, for which many of Yale’s graduate and professional students work before attending graduate or professional school, offer full health benefits to both heterosexual and homosexual domestic partners.

“[Health benefits are] something we would like to see eventually extended,” Mason said.

But most students do not feel it is urgent, or at all necessary, for the University to provide health coverage to heterosexual domestic partners, they said.

“[Domestic partners usually] have a job and health care through their job. Their health plan is better than the Yale plan,” GPSS senator Dani Simons FES ’04, a co-sponsor of the resolution, said. But she said she thinks health care is important for international students.

For the time being, graduate and professional students’ requests are strictly limited to ID card benefits.

“Whether or not in future years the health benefits are going to be pursued even by the GPSS is left for future years down the road,” said Yelinek.

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