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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Same-sex couples to receive benefits

Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s will extend benefits to all legally married spouses of employees, including same-sex spouses.

Notre Dame's Office of Human Resources sent an e-mail to "benefit-eligible faculty and staff" with the announcement Oct. 9.

“On Monday [Oct. 6], the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from decisions striking down bans on same-sex marriage in several states, including Indiana. This means that the law in Indiana now recognizes same-sex marriages and the University will extend benefits to all legally married spouses, including same-sex spouses,” the e-mail stated. “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.”

Saint Mary’s also announced that it will comply with the new state law.

“Saint Mary's College's interpretation is that, as an employer in Indiana, the College must abide by the law and enroll legally married, same-sex spouses of faculty and staff in its insurance benefits if requested by a College employee,” Richard Nugent, director of human resources and college counsel at Saint Mary’s, said.

The cost of providing health insurance to employees at both institutions will increase, but the number of new persons that will be covered by the institutions remains to be seen, Nugent said.

Paul Browne, vice president of public affairs and communications for Notre Dame, said prior to the extension of benefits last week, approximately 2,700 spouses of Notre Dame employees were covered.

"It’s unknown right now how many will be added as a result of the extension of benefits," Browne said. "It will become clearer as newly covered employees sign up for benefits."

Reactions from the Notre Dame community to the extension of benefits have been mixed.

“This decision makes me feel respected and valued by the University. Especially now that the benefits of marriage have been extended to gay couples in Indiana, Notre Dame's proactivity is welcomed and appreciated,” Aaron Nichols, audience development program manager for Shakespeare at Notre Dame and an out staff member, said.

The decision, while having substantial symbolic meaning, also has significant practical implications, Maureen Lafferty, assistant director of the University Counseling Center and an out staff member, said.

“This decision has very important practical benefits for GLBTQ families who may breathe easier due to access to medical insurance coverage — it's a wonderful way to support families,” Lafferty said. “Respect for diversity is also a core value for the kind of institution that Notre Dame strives to be — a top-tier institution in a global marketplace.

"Notre Dame describes its commitment to diversity as a 'moral and intellectual necessity' and calls us to cultivate a diverse community," she said. "This action feels consistent with those values."

Lafferty said that she believes this decision will help Notre Dame become a more inclusive place.

“GLBTQ faculty and staff members and their families will no doubt feel a greater sense of support and belonging, which is always a good thing," she said. "Faculty and staff may also feel safer to be 'out' on campus, which enables them to provide valued mentoring for diverse students.

“This decision can also communicate to the world at large that respect for diversity is a core University value, which can be very attractive to potential faculty, staff and students," Lafferty said.

Nichols said he hopes the University's decision will help those within the LGBT community gain acceptance within the broader Notre Dame network.

“There is, and will continue to be, people of faith who believe my sexual orientation is a personal choice that God condemns," Nichols said. "I hope these individuals will see their LGBT brothers and sisters through the lens of our University's loving and empathetic stance."

Other members of the Notre Dame community, however, expressed displeasure with the University’s extension of health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses.

“This is a very sad development for Notre Dame. The haste with which it was done and its being announced without serious consideration of the legal implications is not only deeply troubling but also revelatory of the direction of the current Notre Dame administration,” Fr. Bill Miscamble, professor of history, said. “Notre Dame has made no effort to stand for the truth about marriage but has supinely conformed to a deeply flawed understanding of the crucial institution of marriage.”

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese issued a statement on the matter Tuesday, voicing the need for Notre Dame to follow Catholic teaching.

“In announcing its decision to extend benefits to 'same-sex spouses,' I am glad that Notre Dame affirmed that as a Catholic university, it 'endorses a Catholic view of marriage,' though I would say that Catholic teaching on the heterosexual nature of marriage is more than 'a view,'” Rhoades said. “The heterosexual nature of marriage is an objective truth known by right reason and revelation.

"As a Catholic university, it is important that Notre Dame continues to affirm its fidelity to Catholic teaching on the true nature of marriage as a union of one man and one woman."

The mission of the University, however, is one of inclusion and love, and this decision furthers Notre Dame toward better carrying out that goal, University President Fr. John Jenkins said.

“Apart from these questions and any legal obligations, however, we recognize an urgent call to welcome, support and cherish gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, who have been too often marginalized and even ostracized, and many of whom bear the scars of such treatment," Jenkins said. "At Notre Dame, we have undertaken initiatives to provide support and welcome gay and lesbian members of our community. These efforts must not and will not flag."

“Our abiding goal, rather, is to learn better how to love one another and together build a less imperfect community of love," he said. "That is the mission of Notre Dame, and we remain committed to it."