Weber State grants same-sex benefits

Friday , January 03, 2014 - 10:54 PM

lonnie lujan and Jose Arche, (Courtesy photo)...

Nancy Van Valkenburg, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Newlyweds Lonnie Lujan and Jose Arche on Friday opened a welcome piece of email from Lujan’s employer, Weber State University.

“Following the federal ruling striking down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, the Public Employees Health Plan (PEHP) is extending benefits to same-gender legal spouses,” the email said, in part.

“I was ecstatic,” said Lujan, who is WSU enrollment director for the Master of Science in Radiologic Sciences program.

“With Jose working as a library clerk for the Ogden School District, he’s only allowed to work part time, so (he) doesn’t have any health insurance benefits.

“We are both healthy, but you never know when something will happen, like an accident or illness. It’s a weight off our shoulders.”

Lujan and Arche, 31 and 29, respectively, have been together for five years and engaged for two. They live in Ogden.

“We thought we would go out of state to get married, but with the money and time required, we never really got around to making the trek,” Lujan said.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby on Dec. 20 declared Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional, a judgment the state has appealed.

Lujan and Arche got in line at 4:30 a.m. Dec. 23, the first day the Weber County Clerk’s office began approving same-sex marriage licenses. They were among the many couples to head across the street to the Hampton Inn to be married by volunteer officiants.

“It was chaotic,” Lujan said. “It still feels kind of surreal.”

Lujan applied Monday for insurance benefits for his husband through Weber State. WSU’s employee email announcement, which also gave instructions and deadlines for updating insurance coverage, was shared on Facebook, on pages including the WSU Faculty Staff Gay Straight Alliance.

“I am proud to be working for a great institution that is open to treating all of its employees equally and granting the rights that are afforded to everyone,” Lujan said.

WSU President Chuck Wight said extending benefits to same-sex partners who are legally married is a requirement of the federal court ruling.

“But we embrace that,” Wight said. “Part of our mission at Weber State is to create an inclusive and welcoming learning environment. We welcome Judge Shelby’s ruling as an opportunity to embrace equality for all of our family, faculty, staff and students.

“It’s the right thing to do. I am delighted with the ruling.”

Wight said multiple same-sex married couples have applied for spousal insurance and will be approved.

Dan Andersen is executive director of the Utah Retirement Systems, a division of PEHP.

“The way we look at it, all our policies allow lawful spouses to have health coverage,” he said. “Now that Utah recognizes couples in same-sex marriages as lawful spouses, insurance policies will cover them regardless of their employers.”

Lujan said he was disappointed to hear Utah will spend an estimated $2 million on its appeal.

“There are so many better ways they could spend that money,” he said. “Working in education, budgets are always being cut.”

Lujan doesn’t expect the ruling to be overturned.

“I would be shocked,” he said. “It’s still kind of hard to believe that Utah, of all places, has become the 18th state to allow same-sex marriage. It still hasn’t really hit us because we’ve been together so long, it seems like we have been married anyway.”

But legal recognition means a lot.

“It does make us feel more equal to be acknowledged as a married couple,” Lujan said. “We didn’t get married for the benefits. We did it because of the love we have for each other.

“It’s about equality. It’s not that we are trying to take over the world. It’s about being treated like everyone else.”

Contact reporter Nancy VanValkenburg at 801-625-4275 or nvan@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @S_ENancyVanV.

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