From WILL - The Public Square -

Raeann Dossett of Parkland College on Domestic Partner Benefits

Hello, my name is Raeann Dossett. I'm an employee of Parkland College and a member of the college's LGBT Ally Team. This evening I'd like to address the topic of employer-provided benefits for domestic partners.

If the phrase "domestic partner" is new to you, let me offer this definition. Domestic partners are two individuals who live together in a long-term relationship, with an exclusive mutual commitment, in which the partners agree to be jointly responsible for each other's welfare, the welfare of their children, and to share their financial responsibilities. In shorthand, a family.

The term domestic partner provides inclusion for families created by couples who choose not to marry, or gay and lesbian couples who cannot legally marry. In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 5.5 million couples who were living together in mutually committed relationships but who were not married.

Why should employers care about these families?

Fringe benefits, such as health and life insurance, retirement plans and sick leave, are an important part of an employee's compensation package, and a major factor in the recruitment and retention of the best employees. For better or worse, the current health care system in the U.S. is based on insurance provided through employers. By extending health benefits to domestic partners, employers are providing a measure of security and stability to employees who are otherwise one serious accident or illness away from financial disaster.

Perhaps more important, extending domestic partner benefits to same- and opposite-sex couples demonstrates that an employer truly believes in treating people fairly and equally. Most companies have policies which bar discrimination based on gender and marital status. The extension of domestic partner benefits is one way that employers can move these ideals off paper into action, and into the real lives of their employees.

Virtually unheard of before the early '90s, there is a growing trend toward providing domestic partner benefits in this country. About 42% of Fortune 500 companies provide domestic partner benefits. Locally, several employers offer some type of domestic partner benefits, including Wolfram Research, the University of Illinois, and Kraft.

I'm proud of my employer, Parkland College, who recently put a comprehensive set of domestic partner benefits in place for its employees. In addition to health insurance, Parkland went all the way to include domestic partners in other benefits, such as sick leave, personal leave, and tuition waivers. Parkland has a set of core values that emphasize fairness and just treatment, as well as policies that bar "discrimination based on race, color, sex or sexual orientation, religion, national origin, age, disability, veteran or marital status." This move shows that Parkland walks the walk, and lives up to its beliefs.

Domestic partner benefits are about fair compensation, equal treatment, and family stability. If you're interested in working for domestic partner benefits in your workplace, an excellent place to start is with the information on the Human Rights Campaign website, www.hrc.org.

Thank you.