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State Bans on Benefits for Gay Couples Disadvantage Universities

Taken for Granted
Kelly Krause, AAAS

When the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act in June, making legally married same-sex couples eligible for all federal benefits available to married opposite-sex couples, supporters of gay marriage hailed the decision as a major advance. But the decision was also a setback for academic institutions in states that do not recognize same-sex unions, says Jeffrey Trammell, who is the outgoing rector of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, as reported by the Washington Post.

Virginia's ban on public employers providing family health coverage and other family-based fringe benefits to gay and lesbian employees creates "a substantial incentive for our gay and lesbian faculty and staff to leave the Commonwealth's public universities and colleges," Trammell says.

"With changes in federal benefits soon available to legally married gay couples, we will lose more." —Jeff Trammell

William and Mary has already found itself at a disadvantage in the competition to attract and retain topflight talent, says Trammell, who is ending his term as head of William and Mary's governing board.  A gay resident of the District of Columbia, which recognizes gay marriage, Trammell told the Post that William and Mary has "already … lost valued gay and lesbian faculty to our competitors who do not discriminate. With changes in federal benefits soon available to legally married gay couples, we will lose more. Two able individuals told me [recently] that they are leaving for another state—one a top professor [in a science-technology field] and another a university administrator just recruited to Virginia a few years ago," Trammell says in the article.

He tells of "senior professors whose partners had cancer and no health insurance; researchers who left the commonwealth, taking major grants with them; faculty who, unlike their straight colleagues, are paying out of their pockets for costly individual policies for their partners and who resent the discrimination; young professors and administrators who are looking to leave the state; and so forth."

Leaders of the University of Virginia and George Mason University have also called publicly for the changes in the state laws that forbid equal benefits for same-sex unions. Trammell adds that he has spoken privately with leaders of other Virginia public institutions, all of whom, he says, universally recognize the problem. There is, he says, "great angst over publicly admitting we are discriminating against these faculty and staff, and asking the state to remedy that. I certainly understand politics, but the interests of our universities require us not to be silent."