Baylor policy denying employees’ same-sex spouses health insurance sparks controversy

Baylor Alumna Shannon Kelly started a petition urging Baylor to reverse its policy toward same-sex healthcare benefits. Christina Cannady | Photographer

By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer

Many members of the Baylor Family were surprised to learn that same-sex spouses of Baylor employees cannot be added as a dependent on their health care plan.

Shannon Kelly, class of 2020, said she was mortified for Baylor when she read the Lariat article on Thursday.

“It’s just complete hypocrisy, quite honestly,” Kelly said. “You can’t state you want to include all, and you love all, and you care about all, and you’re following Christ’s values and then not include others. We’ve seen Christianity time and time again used for hateful messages and used for hate when Jesus was really just a complete radical in everything that he did. He constantly preached love, no matter what … He sat with the sinners, he sat with the debt collectors, he sat with all those people, and Jesus doesn’t care. All that matters is that you’re one of God’s children, and Baylor is trying to play God by putting a position on this.”

In response, Kelly said she made a petition calling for Baylor to reverse its policy. She said it will be sent to Baylor on April 23.

“Faculty shouldn’t have to fear for their partner’s health insurance or their partner’s health safety, especially during a pandemic,” Kelly said. “They shouldn’t have to fear for that.”

A Baylor employee with a same-sex spouse, who asked to remain anonymous, reached out to the Lariat after the release of the article. The source said their spouse was in the process of a career change, and soon, their spouse would be without healthcare.

“The handful of us to which this might apply are basically treated as second-class employees in a way, basically being told, ‘Because your love and your marriage looks different than we think it should, we are not going to give you the same benefits that we will give your colleagues,’” the source said. “And to that, I just have to ask, ‘Why? Why can’t I take care of my spouse the same way that my colleagues can?’ I made the same vows. I vowed to care for my spouse, but I can’t do that to the same level that the heterosexual couples can because Baylor has deemed inappropriate to support me and give me the same benefits that they would give a heterosexual couple.”

The source said Baylor’s Christian mission is one of the many reasons they work here.

“The ability to let me take care of my spouse is not against their Christian mission,” the source said. “I’m not asking them to roll out the rainbow carpet. I have been and will always be very quiet about my sexuality at Baylor because I respect the fact that it is a Christian institution and that there are those who are not comfortable with my sexuality and quite frankly, what the heck does my sexuality have to do with my ability to do my job? It just doesn’t come up. I’m not asking for that. All that I’m asking for is the ability to take care of my spouse.”

Fort Worth senior Zachary Miller said via email he has known about the health care policy and was not surprised by it because it is within Baylor’s religious positions.

“It’s certainly legal,” Miller said. “Baylor has a religious exemption under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment; to compel Baylor to provide health care to a same-sex married couple — a marriage which Baylor does not and cannot recognize — would force it to violate its religious precepts.”

Miller also said Baylor must apply Christine doctrine laid out by various university statements, even if it’s unpopular.

“I’m not sure Baylor should change anything,” Miller said via email. “If they did, they would be acting in opposition to their own stated religious beliefs. They would need to revoke the [statement on human sexuality] in order to change this policy. I think that Baylor should be clear that it is a traditional Christian institution which applies doctrine as understood for millennia and that changes in American culture will not influence Baylor’s religious positions. Either that, or Baylor should decide it no longer wants to be a Christian institution of any kind and commit to being completely secular like SMU and TCU.”

Portland, Ore., senior Emma Fraley, president of Gamma Alpha Upsilon, said she had known about Baylor’s health care policy for a while. She also said that if Baylor is serious about becoming a tier-one research institution, it needs to get rid of policies discriminating against LGBTQ students and employees.

Fraley also said the health care policy is illegal under Title VII.

“I see no reason to keep it,” Fraley said. “Not only is it blatantly illegal, it’s just hurtful, and it perpetuates a really harmful set of ideas: that gay people are not Christian, or that gay people are not suited to be in positions of teaching or in leadership. That just doesn’t feel like something that people would agree with in 2021. I would love to see this sort of policy reversed.”