Monday, June 2, 2008

"Slip Sliding Away": Same Sex Spousal Equivalency at Duke University May Be Changing!

There was this note this morning from a friend at Duke University: It seems that in negotiating a new insurance package there is a change afoot: while others fought for same sex spousal equivalency (SSSE) for those of us who are LGBT, so that employees had the same rights as heterosexuals, e.g., dental, health, and other insurance benefits:

All Duke employees who are currently in--or think they might ever be in--a long-term same-sex partnership that qualifies as a SSSE ("Same Sex Spousal Equivalency") for Duke benefits of whatever sort should note that Duke is changing one of its programs to eliminate one benefit for SSSE's for future Duke employees. Here is how it works:

"Currently, Duke has a contract with Aetna Insurance to provide Duke employees to purchase long-term care insurance. Married couples and SSSE recieve a 10% discount.

According to Duke, Aetna is going out of the long-term care business. Duke has contracted with Prudential to offer a long-term care policy. Under this new policy, SSSE couples are NOT eligible for the 10% discount. According to Sonja Daniels of the Duke Benefits Office, who tells me that she negotiated the contract, current SSSE couples who transfer from Aetna to Prudential will receive the discount. However, new employees will not be eligible for the 10% discount. Moreover, while Ms. Daniels assured me on the phone that current SSSE employees will not be affected by this change, there is nothing in the literature that her office has distributed that makes this clear: it says simply that the discount applies only to those who are "married."

Duke has thus negotiated a contract that takes away a benefit from SSSE couples and therefore is in direct violation of Duke's nondiscrimination policy.

This may seem like a minor thing: if what Ms. Daniels told me on the phone is correct, nobody who is currently on this list is going to be harmed by this. However, the fact is that this change in benefits-- negotiated, apparently, by someone in a position of real authority in the Duke Benefits office--takes away something that Duke has previously offered to SSSE workers. At best, this represents a new insensitivity to LGBT issues at Duke. At worst, it is a deliberate first-slide down a slippery slope that will end with SSSE relationships losing the respect that we struggled years ago to gain from this University.

This must be corrected at once. What can be done?

Here's the point: we will have to be vigilant in not only establishing new rights of equality with our heterosexual peers, but once we reach them we will have to keep fighting
to keep them.



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