From the archives:
Background: How the University of California
Enacted Domestic Partner Benefits

 
Click for the UC Regents page Home Page for the UC Regents

 

News coverage:

San Francisco Chronicle 11/22/97

San Francisco Chronicle 11/21/97

San Francisco Chronicle 11/20/97

San Francisco Chronicle 11/19/97

San Francisco Chronicle 11/12/97 (Matier and Ross)

San Francisco Chronicle 9/19/97

  On November 21, 1997, the UC Board of Regents voted 13-12 to provide domestic partner benefits to UC employees in committed relationships who cannot marry, whether because they are of the same sex or are related by blood.

Voting for domestic partner benefits were Regents Atkinson, Bagley, Brophy, Bustamante, Connerly, Davis, Eastin, Gonzales, Levin, Khachigian, McClymond, Preuss, and Soderquist.

Voting no were Regents Chandler, Clark, Davies, Hotchkiss, Johnson, Leach, Lee, Nakashima, Ochoa, Parsky, Sayles, and Governor Wilson.

The measure ultimately passed as a result of the last-minute abstention by Regent Velma Montoya. She offered an amendment that would have excluded retired UC employees from domestic partner benefits, stating that inclusion of such employees was inconsistent with the argument that benefits are necessary to make UC competitive in recruiting and retaining high-quality faculty and staff. She stated she would vote for the proposal if her amendment passed. However, it was defeated 14-12, with Chairperson Khachigian, President Atkinson, and Regents Chandler, Clark, Davies, Hotchkiss, Johnson, Leach, Lee, Nakashima, Ochoa, Parsky, and Sayles, as well as Governor Wilson voting against it.

In the final roll-call vote, Regent Montoya passed when her name was first called. After the other regents had voted, with the tally 12-12, she abstained. President Atkinson then cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of his own recommendation.

The vote was exceptionally close because of Governor Wilson's overnight appointment of two new regents (Chandler and Hotchkiss) to join Regent Ralph Ochoa, who was appointed the previous Wednesday. All three of the last-minute appointees – none of whom had yet been approved by the state senate – voted against domestic partner benefits.

According to an article by Bryan Monroe in the November 22 San Jose Mercury News, the Governor admitted that the new appointments were made to influence the vote. "Yes, it did make a difference," Wilson was quoted as saying. "It meant two more votes that could have avoided putting the university in a precarious legal position."

New Regent Hotchkiss expressed the fervent hope that domestic partners could be provided for by the University, and noted that his church in Pasadena has blessed gay couples and that he has many friends "along this line." However, he voted against the proposal.

In a long and rambling pre-vote statement, new Regent Ralph Ochoa asserted that he had not had any discussions with Governor Wilson about the domestic partners issue except to observe that he was going from the frying pan into the fire by becoming a Regent at this time. He questioned whether the Regents were circumventing the will of the legislature and the governor by adopting domestic partners benefits and worried that "we are on the cusp of identifying another class" and discriminating against it, namely, unmarried heterosexual couples.

 

"The single most important characteristic we look for when evaluating appointees to the Board of Regents is independence from political pressure. All three of the members hastily appointed by the governor this week promptly failed to demonstrate any. So I am very skeptical about their chances of winning Senate confirmation."
-Senate Pro Tem Bill Lockyer

Wilson's third last-minute appointee, Regent Carol Chandler, did not make any comment in the discussion but voted against the proposal.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward) predicted that the governor would pay a price when his new appointments came before the Senate for confirmation. "The single most important characteristic we look for when evaluating appointees to the Board of Regents is independence from political pressure," Lockyer was quoted as saying. "All three of the members hastily appointed by the governor this week promptly failed to demonstrate any. So I am very skeptical about their chances of winning Senate confirmation."

Then-Senator Lockyer, who chaired the Senate Rules Committee, was quoted in the San Francisco Examiner as saying, "My own belief is that we probably ought to wait for a new governor to make these crucial appointments."

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Regent Lee had initially planned to vote yes but also had decided not to attend the meeting because of a business emergency; however, the Governor persuaded him to attend and to change his vote to oppose benefits.

Regent Ochoa's concerns about heterosexuals were consistent with the argument offered repeatedly by Governor Wilson: that the policy is discriminatory and illegal because it excludes unmarried heterosexual couples. Wilson cited legal opinions in a letter from John Yoo, a conservative constitutional law professor at UC-Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and another letter distributed to the regents by the arch-conservative Individual Rights Foundation, also known as the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, based in Pasadena. Regents Parsky and Lee also expressed concerns about discriminating against heterosexuals.

Regent Connerly responded that the purpose of the policy was to eliminate discrimination, not to create it. He challenged Regent Parsky and others to support future extension of benefits to unmarried heterosexual partners. According to the Los Angeles Times, Regent Connerly and Lt. Governor Gray Davis expressed their plan to ask the board in January to further expand its health benefits to include unmarried heterosexual couples.

James E. Holst, the UC Counsel, expressed the opinion that the policy was potentially open to litigation, but noted that the Finance Committee's decision to expand it to include other relationships in which marriage is not permitted – such as an employee who lives with and cares for an elderly parent – strengthens the University's legal position.

 

Thursday's Action by the Finance Committee The Friday vote came one day after the Regents' Committee on Finance defeated a motion by Governor Wilson that would have scuttled domestic partner benefits for UC staff and students. The Committe then voted 9-3 to support health benefits for domestic partners and broadened the proposal to include others who cannot marry (e.g., employees with a live-in elderly parent).

The Committee also voted unanimously to refer a recommendation on student housing for domestic partners back to the President for further development.

Governor Wilson, who was the President of the Board and an ex officio member of the Finanace Committee, made a rare personal appearance at the Thursday meeting to attempt to persuade a majority of the Regents to vote against domestic partner benefits. He argued that providing such benefits would cost too much, would undermine the institution of marriage, and would invite lawsuits from unmarried heterosexual couples, who would not receive benefits under President Atkinson's proposal. He also suggested that, if necessary, uninsured same-sex partners of UC employees could apply for Medi-Cal.

Several other regents spoke at the committee meeting in support of the governor's position and expressed concern about discriminating against heterosexuals. Regent Nakashima questioned whether providing domestic partner benefits would hasten the end of Western civilization, a concern that was disputed by Regent Connerly. Nakashima also indicated that he was unaware that any members of the California legislature were lesbian or gay. (At the time, the Assembly had two openly lesbian members, Speaker Pro Tempore Sheila Kuehl and Rep. Carole Migden.)

Regent Chairperson Meredith Khachigian commented that, despite her conservative Republican upbringing, she had been "educated" on the domestic partnership issue by gay friends. She stated she was troubled by the potential legal problems described by the Governor, but that she would vote for the President's proposal as a matter of fairness.

Ultimately only two of the Finance Committee members supported Wilson's motion and voted against President Atkinson's recommendation for health benefits.

 

Vote Was Deferred in September The Regents had originally been expected to approve President Atkinson's proposal for limited domestic partner benefits for employees in same-sex relationships at their September 18 meeting. However, they delayed action at the last minute because the Governor – who was not present at the meeting – insisted that the Regents formally vote on the proposal.

According to a San Francisco Examiner article, many on the board appeared willing to let President Atkinson act in September. But after most members of the public had left the meeting, Regent John Davies of San Diego told the regents that Wilson "has serious reservations about the effect this would have on (UC) budget negotiations in Sacramento." The governor, who was also president of the Board of Regents, asked that the board consider the issue at its November meeting because "he thinks it's a matter for the regents to decide, an important public policy question," Davies said.

Atkinson said at the time that he would not go ahead with his plan until the board acted because he thought it was in the best interest of the university that domestic partners policies be discussed and voted on in November.

 

UC Not in Step

According to President Atkinson's September 10th memo to the Regents, the "University of California is not in step with a national trend, in both public and private institutions, toward offering some form of domestic partner benefits, and that the lack of such benefits is affecting the University's ability to recruit and retain the most qualified faculty and staff, as well as the most outstanding graduate students."

He also noted that of the 8 universities that UC uses for comparison purposes, 6 (75%) then offered health benefits to the domestic partners of their employees and retirees (Stanford, MIT, Yale, Harvard, University of Michigan, and SUNY Buffalo). According to Atkinson, "Such benefits are becoming more widely available in both the public and the private sectors. Their availability is thought to strengthen competitveness, improve morale, and promote diversity in the workforce."

Governor Wilson, a second-term Republican and unsuccessful presidential candidate, vetoed state domestic partners legislation as well as several bills prohibiting anti-gay discrimination. Among them was AB 257, which would have moved enforcement of discrimination complaints based on sexual orientation to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The bill would have afforded victims more experienced investigators and increased from 30 days to a year the time to file a claim.

Wilson's energetic opposition to domestic partner benefits at the University was widely interpreted as an attempt to exploit popular prejudices to boost his presidential prospects. He also had been making new overtures to the Religious Right, a move that many analysts then regarded as a prelude to another run for the White House.

In an August Field poll about Wilson's tenure as governor, 55 percent of Californians believed he had taken action in the past because he believed it was right and without regard to the political consequences (the question did not refer specifically to Wilson's actions on discrimination based on sexual orientation). Only a third of the poll respondents thought Wilson had done more to restore people's faith in leaders than other state or national figures.

 

    Domestic Partner Benefits at the University of California
 
  President Atkinson's Memo to the UC Regents on Domestic Partner Benefits (September 10, 1997)
 
  Regent Nakashima opposes domestic partners benefits but supports administrative salary increases
 
  Links to other sites with information about domestic partner policies
 

 

  Dr. Herek's summary of relevant social science research that he provided to the Regents at their September 18 meeting.
 
PDF Picture Download Dr. Herek's handout to the UC Regents (requires Adobe Acrobat, which can be downloaded free of charge)
 
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