University employees won't receive benefits for same-sex domestic partners next year

University professor Benjamin Munson and his partner Kevin Burk look through used books at the Twin Cities Pride festival June 28, 2014. Munson and Burk received domestic partnership benefits before they got married last summer. (Photo by Lisa Persson)

Before professor Benjamin Munson married his partner last summer, the two received University of Minnesota health benefits for being in a same-sex domestic partnership.

Munson, a speech, language and hearing sciences professor, was one of 114 employees who received same-sex domestic partner benefits last year. But beginning next January, these employees will no longer be covered by the University.

The number of employees receiving this type of coverage has dropped by one-third since Minnesota started recognizing same-sex marriages last August.

In order to continue receiving benefits, employees in a same-sex domestic partnership will need to get married, said University employee benefits director Dann Chapman.

Even though the policy change hasn’t faced heavy opposition yet, some say there may be families who could be negatively affected.

“There’s others that it might not be helpful for because folks might not want to get married, or they’re in situations where it’s not helpful for their family structure,” said Stef Wilenchek, director of the University’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Ally Programs Office.

Wilenchek said the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community is very diverse in terms of partnerships and family structures, and marriage might not be the best option for some.

Chapman said the University began considering the phase-out after same-sex marriage became legal.

Due to feedback from LGBT employees, he said, the University decided to continue coverage through 2014.

“Everybody felt that gave partners a reasonable period of time to explore whether or not, in fact, they wanted to get married or not,” Chapman said.

Joseph Konstan, chair of the Faculty Affairs Committee, said members also discussed the changes and none of them brought up concerns.

“They had a chance to react, and I didn’t hear anybody come back and say, ‘Wait a minute, we need to discuss this more,’” he said.

Chapman said the University will communicate the change to employees this month and will ensure that those currently receiving same-sex domestic partnership benefits are aware of their options.

“Nobody should be stuck in a situation where they just can’t get coverage,” he said.

Other faculty and staff members said they don’t think the change will be a negative one for LGBT employees.

It isn’t the first time University employee benefit policies have been reworked since the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Before her marriage was recognized in Minnesota, University employee Steff Yorek had to pay additional taxes on her benefits.

Those taxes were lifted once same-sex marriage was legalized. Before, the Internal Revenue Service didn’t recognize same-sex partners as dependents, and their benefits were considered to be taxable income.

That change reduced Yorek and her wife’s taxable income by about $5,000, she said.

“It’s not a small amount of money,” she said, adding that “all in all, [the change has] been good for our family.”

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