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UA's gay employees gain partial victory

By Stephanie Corns
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 4, 1999
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Randy Metcalf
Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA President Peter Likins speaks to a group of people yesterday in the Senior Ballroom. Likins discussed gradually allowing benefits for domestic partners of the same sex, which are currently not available.

UA President Peter Likins yesterday pledged his support to homosexual university employees and promised to explore options toward creating domestic partner benefits.

Likins told about 75 members of the Outreach Program that he sympathized with the need for subsidized benefits, but political and financial constraints stand in the way.

"I (understand) because I have six kids and one of them is gay," Likins said during the noontime forum in the Memorial Student Union Senior Ballroom. "(But) it's a political issue and a financial issue. Here we have conflict."

Likins and the group agreed to form a research committee to examine the logistics of the benefits packages, including costs and ways to administer the benefits.

"We are going to solicit them to create an ad-hoc task force," said Sandy Fagan, assistant director of the University of Arizona's Affirmative Action office. "It's a viable concept."

While Likins said he was "prepared to put together a team with the two other (state) universities," he warned the group they would face opposition due to the sensitive nature of their proposal.

"The very first opening of the door will find criticism," Likins said. "We need to just open the door a little bit so we don't meet with resistance. Then we can open the door a little more a little bit later so it doesn't create shock."

However, the proposal's future appears bleak, said Judy Gignac, Arizona Board of Regents president.

Few changes will occur until Arizona's political climate shifts, she said.

"We have a very conservative Legislature," Gignac said. "Under the current make-up of the Legislature, I don't see any support."

Neal Dorschel, a UA human resources consultant, said the state needs to treat all university employees equally.

"The state wants to turn it into a morality issue - and it's not," he said. "It's an equity issue."

Group members were happy with Likins' response, said Dorschel, acting chair of the Outreach Program, an umbrella group that encompasses most of the UA's minority organizations.

"What I thought would be a reasonable reaction would be to create a study committee," he said. "We'll wait to see if the president appoints a committee."

Likins will probably appoint delegates from the benefits and human resources offices, said Fagan, who is also co-chairwoman of Equity, a group of 12 university faculty, staff and graduate students pushing for partner benefits.

"He's going to want certain interests represented," she said.

The benefits would cost insurance companies about 1 to 3 percent more than current costs to add both same-sex and opposite-sex partners to the benefit packages, Fagan said.

"The cost is pretty minimal," she said. "We're not talking about a lot of money."