BY QUINCY KISSACK
Earlier this year, St. Norbert College decided to extend benefits to same-sex couples. This means that a couple in a domestic partnership is able to access the same benefits as a heterosexual family. This change came after years of consideration and consultation with the President’s Cabinet, the Norbertines and the Board of Trustees.
The idea began to form in 2009 when the Wisconsin legislature voted to legally recognize domestic partnerships. This meant that the state recognized a relationship between individuals of the same gender and granted them many rights that a family member would have, such as hospital visitations and the ability to inherit an estate if a will is not present.
It also meant that University of Wisconsin schools began to extend same-sex couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples.
At St. Norbert College, employees began to advocate for these same benefits. President Tom Kunkel cited Dr. Cheryl Carpenter-Seigel as an initiating force behind this movement, as she researched the issue and presented it in front of the Cabinet.
As time went on, Kunkel stated that it became an issue that arose more and more frequently during the hiring process.
“We knew it would increasingly be a competition issue,” Kunkel stated. “We would hate to lose someone extremely talented because they didn’t feel welcome.”
Numerous colleges across the state, both Catholic and not, recognize these benefits, including Marquette University, Alverno College and Cardinal Stritch.
However, Kunkel also said it was a question of equality. “By not having this, we had a situation where we had employees that felt like they were being treated as less than full employees by us because they were not entitled to the same benefits that others here were, and the only difference was, frankly, their sexual orientation,” Kunkel expressed.
“I think it was also a sense that the time had arrived,” he said. “We weren’t the first college to do it, but we just felt like it was time. It made sense for St. Norbert to act on our conviction.”
This change primarily affects health benefits. In the past, only married couples could place each other and their children on their healthcare plan. Now, couples registered for a domestic partnership through the state can share a healthcare plan.
“Essentially this is just saying that regardless of who you are, if you have someone that is effectively family that would qualify for some benefit of ours, they will qualify for that benefit,” emphasized Kunkel.
“I’m sure that there will be people that won’t agree with it,” said Kunkel.
He added, “We change policies all the time. This or that, we add aspects to our benefits, whatever. For us, we just treated it as another piece of business that we decided we wanted to do.”
This change may not be immediately visible on campus, though. Kunkel stated that this was not something that, numbers-wise, was necessarily going to affect a lot of people.
However, “There are some people that would benefit, and to deny even that handful,” explained Kunkel, “didn’t seem fair.”