Lawsuit may affect domestic partner benefits at Kent State

Bryan Wroten

A lawsuit against Miami University may be key in interpreting the marriage amendment in the Ohio Constitution.

It may also help or end the fight for domestic partner benefits at Kent State.

Ohio Representative Tom Brinkman Jr. (R-Cincinnati) is suing Miami for their domestic partner benefit program because he said it goes against the marriage amendment.

Issue 1 of the November 2004 election, now Article 15, Section 11 of the Ohio Constitution, states a marriage union can only exist between a man and a woman. It also specifies unmarried individuals cannot receive a legal status equal to marriage.

Brinkman said Miami offers partner benefits, such as health and dental insurance, tuition remission and sick leave for family and medical purposes, only to same-sex partnerships, not heterosexual non-married couples. Because it is only for same-sex couples, he said it imitates marriage and therefore violates the marriage amendment.

“What I’m saying is give it to everybody or give it to nobody,” he said. “If you just give it to same-sex couples, you run afoul of the constitutional amendment. Quite frankly, I hope Miami chooses to give them to neither.”

The lawsuit is something Kent State’s faculty union has been waiting for, said Deborah Smith, AAUP action chair.

“It sounds odd, but I actually think it’s a good thing because it moves us closer to the state making a decision,” she said.

A side-letter in the faculty contract specifies that Kent State would offer domestic partner benefits only if the Ohio Supreme Court rules them constitutional.

Because of appeals, Smith said it would take years before the case would make it to the Ohio Supreme Court.

“I certainly hope Kent State will not sit on its laurels and wait for the results,” she said. “I would hope it would be as courageous as other universities and not be afraid of frivolous lawsuits.”

The suit does not change the union’s plans, said Molly Merryman, LGBT Faculty Concerns Committee chair. She said she anticipates more lawsuits in the future dealing with the marriage amendment.

Her concern, however, is the use of the lawsuit and potential others as an excuse by the university not to offer domestic partner benefits, she said. Instead, she said she hopes the university would offer its support to Miami during the lawsuit.

Richard Little, senior director of the university and Miami spokesman, said Miami offered the benefits program in July of 2004, five months before Issue 1 passed. He said the university will defend its benefits program in court for as long as Brinkman pursues the case.

Little said the reason why the university only offers the benefits to same-sex couples is financial. He said the university would like to offer the benefits to heterosexual non-married couples as well, but it cannot at this time because of the cost.

Brinkman said he is suing Miami because the university is close to where he lives. He said he would sue whichever Ohio university offering domestic partner benefits is closest to him.

He doesn’t have a vendetta against Miami, other universities or homosexuals, he said.  

“Somebody has to say ‘This is what the amendment means,'” he said.

Contact religion and minority affairs reporter Bryan Wroten at [email protected].