Same-sex partners recognized Hopkins to extend benefits package for workers next year

Counterpart to marriage

Employee and partner would sign affidavit declaring commitment

October 30, 1998|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

The Johns Hopkins University will extend its benefits package to the same-sex domestic partners of its employees starting next year.

The decision by school President William R. Brody comes after almost five years of discussion, according to university officials who said the change was first recommended by a benefits equity task force in 1994.

"Most of Hopkins' peer institutions have already extended these benefits," said Audrey Smith, the school's vice president of human resources. Smith noted that Duke, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Cornell, the University of Chicago, Brown and Stanford are among the dozens of schools that have this policy.

"We think it is important in terms of recruitment and retention of our faculty and staff," she said. Hopkins is the largest private employer in Baltimore, where 19,000 of its 23,000 employees work.

The economic impact on the school is expected to be minimal -- less than a 1 percent rise in benefits cost -- but many point to the psychological impact on the campus.

"This policy is a recognition that Hopkins is trying to become a more inclusive institution," said Ronald Walters, a history professor and chairman of the school's Diversity Leadership Council.

"It's an important step in the process of recognizing that not everybody here is male, or white or heterosexual," he said.

"It says something about how welcoming we are to the people we want to be part of this community, which goes to how we maintain our creativity and competitiveness as an institution," Walters said. "So it is an intellectual issue as well as a moral one."

Provost Steven Knapp noted that the school adopted a policy banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 1987. "Bringing our benefits package into line is really an extension of that policy," he said.

Nicholas Jones, an engineering professor, was co-chairman of the Work and Family Task Force that met for 18 months before recommending this and other steps in 1997.

"We thought that the benefits eligibility should better reflect the Hopkins community," Jones said. "We strongly believed that the university should recognize the diversity of family life among its faculty and staff.

"As is frequently the case, we would have liked to have seen more than what has happened, but we certainly feel this is a significant step," he said.

Hopkins has not extended benefits to the partners of unmarried heterosexual staff members, in part because of the cost, but also, according to Smith, because those couples can marry and get those benefits, an option not open to same-sex couples.

"We looked at the possibility of extending benefits beyond the traditional family unit such as to nieces and nephews and cousins and parents -- anyone living with a Hopkins employee," Smith said. "This was too costly a course to take. We then looked at all domestic partners and determined that the most cost-effective and beneficial policy would be to include same-sex domestic partners."

In order to qualify, the employee and partner must sign an affidavit, affirming that their relationship is a lifetime commitment involving financial and emotional dependence on one another. The policy will take effect Jan. 1.

Hopkins is thought to be the only Maryland college or university to extend benefits to same-sex partners. The move comes two years after the Board of Regents rejected a similar policy that would have included heterosexual partners for the University System of Maryland.

An advisory panel had recommended the change for the 22,000 employees of the 11 schools in the University of Maryland system, but it was voted down by the regents after criticism from top state political officials and various religious leaders.

The city of Baltimore extended benefits to same-sex domestic partners in 1995. Many corporations have adopted similar policies, including Walt Disney, IBM, Microsoft, Time Warner and the San Francisco 49ers.

Pub Date: 10/30/98

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