08172017Headline:

Family values: Health coverage for UAMS now and the future

It is building support for a resolution before the Academic Senate at UAMS for partner benefits in health insurance for the University of Arkansas System. This is a staple of the benefit offerings at many other public universities around the country.

Though this benefit would help many family situations — not only the same-sex couples who are prohibited from marrying by the Arkansas Constitution — the UA board has resisted joining more enlightened institutions (the Central Arkansas Library System, for example) in offering domestic coverage that is a boon to family health and worker productivity. Fear of helping gay people in an officially homophobic state is the reason. It’s another mark of shame against an institution putatively devoted to higher order thinking.

Said the note to faculty, in part: UALR and UAF senates have already voted for and sent this resolution to their Chancellors and the President. The consistent language/ message across campuses is one thing that is working in our favor with the Chancellors, System office and System Board. We’ve been encouraged to voice the strong support that we know exists here at UAMS for this policy change, with such a resolution. At the risk of again being called “anti-Catholic” by Peter Banko, the leader of St. Vincent Infirmary, I must add that this is another issue that deserves specific attention before UAMS moves ahead with plans for a merged hospital operation with St. Vincent.

If a new entity, with shared governance of institutions including both UAMS and St. Vincent employees is created, what are the implications for treatment of employees at both institutions? Will St. Vincent commit to employment policies that don’t discriminate on sexual orientation grounds, which is a matter of policy at UA? If, let us hope, the University system adopts domestic partner benefits, would the publicly subsidized employees of St. Vincent enjoy the same coverage (not to mention the coverage of birth control pills that UAMS employees already enjoy)?

I hope Peter Banko understands these are issues, not of religious animosity, but simple fairness of public policy when it comes to a public investment in a private institution. I hope Banko also understands they are questions not drawn from thin air. Catholic leadership has moved strongly in recent years on direction from the pope to register disapproval of homosexuality in many and varied specific ways. To name one locally: Arkansas Catholic Bishop Anthony Taylor, otherwise a remarkable and praiseworthy champion of immigrant causes, last year withdrew church support of a group that works to help assimilate immigrants in Arkansas because it insisted on continuing to be a member of coalition that included an organization helping same-sex immigrant couples. Specific actions such as this demand specific answers to related questions presented by the hospital merger.

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