The Faculty Senate’s recommendation to extend benefits to faculty in federally recognized marriages is a solid one, but an endorsement from President Denise Trauth would propel Texas State to the forefront of the fight for equal rights.
According to a Jan. 23 University Star article, senators plan on bringing their endorsement to the Board of Regents and possibly to Trauth. The editorial takes it that “federally recognized” is a euphemism for “same-sex,” and Faculty Senate’s recommendation aims to grant marriage benefits to federally legal spouses of university faculty regardless of sex—even if the union remains unrecognized by Texas law. Texas A&M University’s Faculty Senate took a similar stance in 2012, but no major public university president in Texas has voiced explicit support of same-sex marriage benefits for university employees.
If Trauth were to publicly support same-sex employee marriage benefits, she would be among the first in her position to do so. However, even with backing from the Board of Regents, enacting such a policy would be difficult—numerous state laws prevent direct marriage benefits for same-sex spouses of government employees.
House Bill 1140 and Senate Bill 1486 attempted to circumvent such laws in the 83rd legislative session by proposing the UT and A&M systems extend employee benefits to any “qualified individual,” but both died in committee. Commitment from one public university president is likely not enough to prevent a similar outcome in the next session. However, an announcement by Trauth to protect equal marriage benefits, and the attention it would garner, would likely put pressure on other university presidents and regents to follow suit.
A symbolic show of support from President Trauth would go a long way, even if it remained legally impossible to implement the policy change due to state laws. The university has taken numerous actions to make LGBTQIA students feel comfortable on campus, but becoming the first Texas public university president to endorse same-sex marriage benefits would elevate Texas State’s image as an equality driven institution on a national scale. This image would give Texas State a competitive edge when looking to hire high-caliber faculty members who will take into account whether an institution offers benefits for couples in federally recognized marriages.
Texas State lacks much out-of-state recognition, so it rarely has the opportunity to make major national headlines. However, a unique opportunity is now presented to Trauth, especially since no precedent has yet to be established in Texas regarding equal marriage benefits at universities, and national media outlets have been increasingly supportive of the movement.
Additionally, some of the national attention that would be garnered from the gesture could reach alumni who would be willing to donate to the university as a show of support. Alumni—and their dollars—will be watching.
It is still, sadly, a realistic concern that a public endorsement of marriage equality could dissuade more conservative donors from continuing their contributions. Though all donations are appreciated, the editorial board maintains Texas State does not need any amount of money from donors if their support hinges on denying equal treatment to members of the university community. Alumni on the side of marriage equality will very soon outnumber those against it, if they do not already.
Once again, granting same-sex spousal benefits to Texas State employees is technically illegal under current state laws, and will remain so until those laws are struck down by lawsuit or legislation. The sooner a public university president steps up and supports their forward-thinking faculty senate, the sooner that day will come.