Unmarried heterosexual couples are demanding that the University honor their civil rights. A decade ago, Yale made the progressive decision to allow homosexual domestic partners of graduate and professional students the same privileges married couples enjoy — health coverage and ID card privileges including access to the gym, library and University transit. Now the Graduate and Professional Student Senate is now asking that the University extend the same ID card privileges to heterosexual domestic partners.
Although such a request may seem trivial, it actually raises a number of complex issues and the University — and GPSS — should carefully consider all the implications the request.
As students, we have some practical concerns. We worry about increasing the number of people with access to University resources. GPSS is not asking for health coverage for heterosexual domestic partners, but even ID card privileges would strain the resources. GPSS has calculated that expanding ID card privileges would only result in four additional people at the gym per hour. But that figure is misleading. Four more people an hour doesn’t actually mean four more people an hour — it means one or two extra people midday, but maybe 12 extra people at 4 p.m. Such an increase would undoubtedly influence traffic patterns at the gym. Further, four extra people an hour translates into 64 extra people per weekday. Even if the increase is not noticeable during any one hour, the total wear on the equipment and facilities is greatly increased. Real world employers would not incur such costs to extend privileges to the girlfriend or boyfriend of a new hire.
And yet we recognize that the analogy of Yale to that of a firm, for example, is not quite correct. Yale is a university and part of its role is to foster community. Anything Yale can reasonably do to help unite the sometimes fractured graduate and professional student community would certainly be welcome.
Practical effects aside, however, the bigger issue is that of civil rights. By extending homosexual domestic partners the same rights as married couples, the University is levelling an unequal playing field. It attempts to equalize opportunity in an unequal society. And yet, the University, by its highly laudable decision to offer privileges to homosexual domestic partners, makes itself vulnerable to attacks of civil rights violations from the other side, from students who argue that failing to recognize their long-term heterosexual relationships devalues them — the same way not allowing homosexual couples to marry can devalue those relationships.
Indeed, the reality in today’s society is that many couples are choosing to forgo the traditional ceremonies and rites of marriage. There are long-term relationships that may mean more than a marriage certificate. And yet, there needs to be some criteria for defining relationships. Perhaps there is a common ground amid all these contradictions. The University could, for example, offer reduced-rate gym memberships to significant others of graduate and professional students. Whatever the decision, the University must be aware of the fine line that it walks when trying to be fair to all its students.