Decision comes a year after job offer to lesbian candidate was rescinded
By Sharif Durhams and Don Walker -
Marquette University plans to start offering domestic partner benefits to its employees in 2012, a move that comes about a year after the university's decision to rescind a job offer to a lesbian candidate caused the campus to erupt in debate.
In a statement sent to the campus Thursday afternoon, Marquette President Robert A. Wild said he's been wrestling with an idea of offering the benefits that would provide services for gay and lesbian employees for years.
University officials said the timing of the announcement was influenced by votes in recent weeks by the University Academic Senate and the Marquette University Student Government that have urged the university to offer benefits for domestic partners.
"If we are truly pastoral in our application of the Jesuit principle of cura personalis, I asked myself if I could reconcile that with denying health benefits to a couple who have legally registered their commitment to each other," Wild said. In Latin, cura personalis means "care for the entire person."
Wild noted that the State of Wisconsin gives legal recognition both to marriage for heterosexual couples and to a registered domestic partnership for same-sex couples.
Officials said they're still working out details, but medical, dental and vision benefits currently offered to married couples and their dependents will be extended to registered domestic partners. The couples receiving the benefits must share a residence, and must be of the same sex. The declaration of domestic partnership may be initiated by an application filed with the clerk of the county in which an individual resides.
The decision by Marquette comes nearly after a year after the school announced that it was rescinding a job offer to Jodi O'Brien, a lesbian and scholar at Seattle University, involving concerns relating to Marquette's "Catholic mission and identity" and their incompatibility with some of O'Brien's scholarly writings.
The university said at the time that the decision to rescind the job offer did not have anything to do with O'Brien's sexual orientation.
The university has a Statement on Human Dignity and Diversity. It reads, in part, that Marquette "recognizes and cherishes the dignity of each individual regardless of age, culture, faith, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, language, disability or social class." The statement adds that the Jesuit-run school seeks to become a more diverse and inclusive academic community dedicated to the promotion of justice.
After Marquette and Wild announced the decision, dozens of faculty members at both Marquette and Seattle condemned Marquette for rescinding the offer to O'Brien to take over as dean of the school's College of Arts and Sciences.
In June of last year, the school announced that it had reached a "mutually acceptable resolution" with O'Brien. Marquette said it had apologized to O'Brien, and sources said the school took a "financial hit."
School officials said at the time that the university would consider research projects, conferences, courses and service learning projects exploring the topics of Catholic identity and gender and sexuality issues.
It could not be immediately determined if the decision to offer domestic benefits was related to the settlement of the O'Brien matter.
In December, Marquette released a report to the university community that officials commissioned after the O'Brien incident. The report by Ronni Sanlo, a retired senior associate dean of students at the University of California, Los Angeles, indicates many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students she studied felt harassed at Marquette and that some gay and lesbian faculty wished top university officials were more supportive.
Last March, before the incident involving O'Brien, Wild announced he would step down in June 2011 after about 15 years at the helm of Marquette. He said he had discussed his decision with trustees, including the Rev. Scott Pilarz, Marquette's incoming president.