UT Officials: Fear of Legislature Blocking Same-Sex Benefits

Complex state insurance plans, constitutional hurdles and political consequences have all kept the University of Tennessee from delivering health insurance and other benefits to unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex couples, reports the News Sentinel, citing a letter UT leaders sent faculty members earlier this month.
In the letter, Chancellors Jimmy Cheek and Larry Arrington acknowledged that the school’s biggest challenge is a conservative Legislature that could react with a heavy hand — particularly when it comes to funding — should the school attempt to offer benefits for same-sex couples.
“As we have expressed to you in person, the political issues are the most challenging,” the two wrote. “As leaders of a publicly funded institution, we are responsible for acting in the best interests of the entire institution. For this reason, we ultimately concluded that the University is not in a position to pursue the Faculty Senate’s resolution.”
The letter, dated Jan. 10, is the second such response requested by faculty hoping to open a dialogue about the possibility of offering insurance, bereavement and education credits to unmarried couples.
…”If that truly is what is behind the issues, I understand where that fear could come from. But I think that you’re deciding not to act based on something that hasn’t happened yet,” said Keith Kirkland, chairman of UT’s Commission for LGBT People.
“You have to allow people to react to things. This is something that needs to be done because it is the right thing to do.”
Kirkland said he is discouraged that he has not had a conversation with Cheek or even exchanged emails since becoming chairman of the commission last spring.

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