What is going on up in State College, PA (home of Penn State University)? The local school district has a benefits policy that covers spouses (which in PA means only different-sex married couples) and the different-sex domestic partners of its employees, but specifically excludes the same-sex domestic partners of its employees. Usually, domestic partner benefits policies are adopted to cover same-sex couples who cannot marry and access spousal coverage, and the only question is whether unmarried different-sex couples will be offered the same coverage–not the other way around. In this case, not only do the school district’s employees have to deal with the indignity of being denied spousal coverage, but also have to deal with the indignity of being denied domestic partner coverage as well. Does that make them third class citizens or just second class citizens once removed?
The policy is currently being challenged by the Pennsylvania ACLU, which has alleged, among a variety of federal and state constitutional and statutory violations, that the policy violates State College’s own nondiscrimination ordinance. In response to the suit, the school district claims that the current, discriminatory policy is the result of collective bargaining and that it would consider extending benefits to same-sex partners of its employees, were that issue brought up in collective bargaining. The problem with that “justification” is that the teacher’s union says that it has been seeking domestic partner benefits for its LGBT employees for at least ten years! It will be interesting to see how this suit goes from here.