Time for All Colleges to Offer Benefits to Same-Sex Spouses

It is football season so it isn’t surprising for the University of Notre Dame to make headlines.  Yet, the news this time doesn’t come from the gridiron.  The university made headlines for extending benefits to same-sex spouses of employees.  When the most famous religious institution in the country offers same-sex spousal benefits, it is time to take notice.  The tide on same-sex marriage has changed faster than nearly any social debate I can recall.  Moreover, it is time for all colleges to offer benefits to same-sex spouses.

Photo credit: Flickr J R

It is stunning how quickly public opinion has changed on same-sex marriage.  Vox had an amazing graphic on this issue.  It took nearly 30 years for interracial marriage to have approval by the majority of Americans after becoming fully legal in 1967.

By comparison, same-sex marriage is not yet fully legal, but has enjoyed majority approval since 2011.  More than half of Americans live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal.

Higher education has not been a leader on this issue.  Although many institutions provide support for LGBT students and some offer partner benefits, a mixture of politics and state laws has limited the availability of employee benefits for same-sex partners and spouses.

Just a few years ago, same-sex marriage bans were used as a wedge issue to encourage conservative voters to get to the polls.

Today, it is clear that it is only a matter of time before same-sex marriage will be legal in all 50 states.

Except where state law expressly forbids it, all colleges should begin offering benefits to same-sex spouses immediately.

In the past few weeks, the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage dramatically increased the number of states where same-sex marriage is allowed.  Colleges in these states have a particular obligation to immediately begin providing benefits.

There are too many cases where private, religious colleges are delaying or resisting expanding benefits.  Here again, the Notre Dame example is useful.

Notre Dame is a Catholic institution and values Catholic teaching.  But read their statement on the issue:

Notre Dame is a Catholic university and endorses a Catholic view of marriage.  However, it will follow the relevant civil law and begin to implement this change immediately.”

I appreciate those that have objections with homosexuality and allowing same-sex marriage on religious grounds.  I disagree, but I value the views of those on the other side.

My personal belief about this issue is pretty simple.  I have yet to hear a cogent argument about why the government should not allow same-sex marriage.  There are religious arguments and these are important.  However, religious doctrine can’t be allowed to determine public policy.

Absent a reasonable argument why a right should be curtailed (and religious objections are insufficient), Americans get the right.  It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about speech, assembly, or same-sex marriage.

Religious colleges and universities are free to object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds.  However, this is not a reason to ignore civil law and civic responsibilities.

This isn’t even a matter of religious institutions accept federal financial aid so they are obligated to offer same sex benefits.

The issue is about fairness and equality under the law.

If same-sex marriage is legal and you provide benefits to heterosexual spouses, you should provide the same benefits to same-sex spouses.

I fear history will not judge higher education well for how many colleges are dragging their feet on offering these benefits.  Colleges need to step up and get ahead of the long arc of the moral universe.

It is time for all college to offer benefits to same-sex spouses.