St. Thomas is set to extend its employee benefits packages to spouses of same-sex married couples in 2014, a result of Minnesota’s Freedom to Marry law.
Deb Sagstetter, the university’s rewards and recognition manager and a human resources partner, said the extension is not a political statement on the university’s behalf, but a step to comply with state and federal laws.
“We are aware of numerous Catholic colleges and universities that have extended benefits to same-sex spouses or partners,” Sagstetter said.
In 2011, Marquette University, a Jesuit college in Milwaukee prompted controversy within the Catholic community by extending benefits to a gay professor’s partner. St. Thomas’ benefits package specifies that benefits can only be extended to legally married spouses.
Sagstetter said she cannot predict how many employees will take the offer.
“The university tracks the number of employees who elect each of the coverage level options by medical plan … but does not track whether the spouse is same- or opposite-sex,” Sagstetter said.
An update on St. Thomas 2014 benefits states, “A spouse that is legally married in any state or country is considered a spouse for purposes of the university’s benefits programs.”
Senior David Gustafson said the timing to extend benefits to same-sex spouses is appropriate alongside President Julie Sullivan’s mission to help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals feel more welcomed at St. Thomas.
“Given all the attention it’s gotten (at St. Thomas) since President Sullivan came, I can’t say I’m shocked that this is happening,” Gustafson said. “In fact, I’m actually surprised that this was inspired by the new laws and not by St. Thomas faculty at this point.”
Freshman Elizabeth Johnson said she was surprised the university would take this step as a Catholic school, but she understood that the recent changes in state law would probably have an effect on employee benefits.
“If they’re legally married now, then I could see why the university would really have to give spouses the same benefits,” Johnson said. “I don’t think St. Thomas would extend those benefits to a boyfriend or girlfriend, regardless if it was a heterosexual couple or not.”
Anastasia Straley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.