by Fernando Quintero
Economics Professor Kenneth Train and his partner, John Martin, have been together for 22 years.
Their finances are completely intertwined, with their assets held jointly and their incomes combined to cover their expenses.
They share a lovely Victorian home on a hill high above the hustle and bustle of San Francisco's Castro District.
Train and Martin are not unlike any other loving, committed couple-except for one thing: they are of the same gender.
It is this one fact that keeps Martin from having access to Train's health and retirement benefits.
"Berkeley has been a big part of my life, and I absolutely love working here," said Train.
"Extending benefits to my partner would make me feel even more a part of the Berkeley family."
After years of efforts to extend employees' benefits to domestic partners by mostly gay and lesbian activists from all nine UC campuses, the Board of Regents finally decided to put the item up for discussion at their July 17 meeting in San Francisco.
Regent Charlie Soderquist said the discussion could lead to a vote on the issue of domestic partner benefits as early as this fall.
"We're reaching critical mass on this issue," said Jonathan Winters, a Berkeley staff member.
"I think people are getting pretty tired of hearing 'we're almost there.'"
Gay, lesbian and bisexual faculty and staff members have sought health and other benefits for their partners since the late '80s when many major corporations and municipalities began extending employee benefits to domestic partners.
The Academic Council recommended in April 1994 that health, pension and other benefits be extended to same-sex partners of UC employees.
At the July meeting, following testimony from UC employees, most of whom have been in relationships for at least a decade and university employees for an equal amount of time, several regents expressed support for domestic partner benefits.
In addition to same-sex couples, domestic partner benefits would also be considered for unmarried couples of the opposite sex.
Regent Ward Connerly, who led the campaign to ban race and gender from
UC admissions considerations, was the most vocal supporter of domestic partner
benefits at the July meeting.
Regent Stephen Nakashima said he opposes domestic partner benefits because gay and lesbians "choose their lifestyle. It's a matter of choice by the individual. We can't give money away simply because someone chooses a certain lifestyle."
Supporters of domestic partner benefits say the discussion should focus on economics, not morality.
Several top universities, including six of the eight peer universities used for salary comparisons, offer health benefits to same-sex domestic partners including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, MIT and the University of Michigan.
"It is simply not ethical or just for a major university to continue to stand for discrimination against its employees based solely on sexual orientation," said Rose Maly, a professor of family medicine at UCLA's School of Medicine.
"Nor is it in the university's best interest to discriminate in this way, if it wants to attract and retain the best and brightest faculty and staff," said Maly, who lost her partner of 11 years to breast cancer after battling to secure health insurance for her.
Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol T. Christ said the university's competitive position is compromised by the current policy.
"I have been closely involved with faculty recruitment over a period of eight years. Over this period, prospective faculty have been raising the question of domestic partner benefits with increasing frequency," she said.
"We have always been proud of the quality of our benefits package as an incentive to choose the University of California. That benefits package is now missing an important competitive element in its lack of domestic partner provisions."
According to estimates from the Office of the President, costs could range from $1.2 million a year to $4.9 systemwide for health benefits for same-sex couples. Adding the cost of covering heterosexual partnerships, the total would range from $9.9 million to $19.8 million.
For retirement benefits, yearly costs would range from $1.9 million to $3.8 million for same-sex couples only, and $3.8 million to $6.6 million for both homosexual and heterosexual partners.
Train, chair of the Center for Regulatory Policy at Berkeley who has taught on campus for 15 years, said the extension of benefits to his partner would "greatly solve a dilemma that John and I have faced for our entire professional years."
As a self-employed professional, Martin, a clinical psychologist in private practice, has found it "exceedingly difficult and, in fact, impossible to have decent health insurance," Train said.
Martin is in excellent health. He has never had a major illness. And his HIV status is negative.
"The problem is that policies available to self employed people are uniformly poor," said Train. "The worst part of the policies for self employed people is that routinely, after a few years, the policy is canceled or the coverage is drastically reduced. If the university were to extend benefits to domestic partners, then our problems in this area would be solved."
Train added that retirement benefits creates another issue of disparity. In the event of his death, Train's pension would continue to his partner at a rate significantly less than if the couple were married.
"I feel it is unfair that my partner and I would receive less retirement pay from my years of working than would otherwise comparable married employees."
In addition, since they are not married, Train's social security pension would not extend to his partner.
"That's a double whammy against us," he said.