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Notre Dame offers same-sex couples employee benefits
Other schools aren't there yet
Notre Dame
Two days after same-sex marriage was effectively legalized in Indiana, the Catholic-affiliated University of Notre Dame said it would extend employee benefits to same-sex spouses. - photo by istockphoto.com

One of the nation’s most recognized Roman Catholic Church-affiliated universities is extending employee benefits to spouses in same-sex marriages. The move comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision not to step into the gay marriage debate and appears to contradict current Catholic teaching that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”

Now that the state of Indiana, home to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, recognizes same-gender marriages, the school said last week it would offer employee benefits to all married employees, without regard to gender.

According to the South Bend Tribune, the school emailed employees stating, “Notre Dame is a Catholic university and endorses a Catholic view of marriage. However, it will follow the relevant civil law and begin to implement this change immediately.”

The Indiana paper reported another Catholic school, Saint Mary’s College, also in South Bend, would also offer benefits to same-sex couples. However, Holy Cross College, also in South Bend, and Ancilla College, 30 miles southeast in Donaldson, said they were not planning to do so, yet.

The question of extending employee benefits for same-sex couples has been a key issue since the 2013 Supreme Court decision striking down restrictions against their provision under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. In June, a news service for the Society of Human Resources Management reported a marked increase in private-sector firms offering benefits to same-sex couples who are either married or in domestic partnerships.

“We are seeing a significant shift in employers providing benefits to same-sex couples due to the Supreme Court ruling made one year ago, as well as changes in state laws which resulted from that landmark decision,” Michael Wilson, chief executive of the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, said in a statement.

The high court effectively legalized same-sex marriage last week in 11 states, including Indiana, when it decided not to take up appeals of circuit court rulings finding gay marriage bans in those states were unconstitutional.

Not everyone is happy with the Notre Dame move, which appears to contradict a January 2014 address by Pope Francis.

Speaking to a visiting delegation of Notre Dame trustees, the pontiff noted their duty to support “the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors. It is my hope that the University of Notre Dame will continue to offer unambiguous testimony to this aspect of its foundational Catholic identity, especially in the face of efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness.”

Katherine Jean Lopez, writing at NationalReviewOnline.com, quotes Notre Dame history professor Father Wilson Miscamble as one who disapproves: “Notre Dame has made no effort to stand for the truth about marriage but has supinely conformed to a deeply flawed understanding of this crucial institution,” he said.

And three miles away from Notre Dame, Protestant-affiliated Bethel College, sponsored by the Missionary Church, told the South Bend newspaper it won’t rush to follow the Catholic school’s example.

“We are grateful to live in a nation dedicated to true religious pluralism, not secularism. And by that provision, we long for a mood in the citizenry and courts to sustain the long precedent for religious institutions to exercise their conscience. Just as Notre Dame sought exemption from new mandates to supply birth control, but seeks no exemptions on same-sex benefits, we might discover the free exercise of religion on hiring and benefits matters at Bethel produces different results than other religiously defined colleges,” Gregg Chenoweth, Bethel’s president, said in a message to the paper.

The Tribune also noted that Goshen College, affiliated with the Mennonite Church and about 30 miles east of South Bend, won’t extend benefits to same-sex couples. The school requires employees to “agree to the college’s Commitment to Community Standards, which includes a section stating the Mennonite Church places sexual intercourse within the covenant of marriage between a woman and man, and therefore employees are expected to follow that understanding.”

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com, Twitter: @Mark_Kellnerc