The Brilliant, Possibly Illegal Way Texas Universities Could Override the State’s Marriage Ban

We’ve heard of colleges trying to attract more gay students by scouring applications for homo-bits and holding gay recruiting fairs. But now Texas A&M’s Faculty Senate is courting gay professors by passing a resolution to extend health benefits to same-sex partners 59 to 1. The only problem? That one vote knows something all those other smarty-pants professors don’t—the faculty’s proposing something illegal that could threaten overturn the state’s homophobic policies.

The proposal suggests that gay professors be allowed to identify their same-sex partner as a dependent on the school’s health insurance forms, which would be great — except for what that lone dissenting vote means.

The single nay belongs to computer science professor Walter Daugherity. He says \the Texas insurance code only allows a “spouse and/or child” to be listed as a dependent. He added that the state legislature would have to change the definition of “dependent” to include any qualified individuals, something the schools cannot do.

However, those disagreeing with Daugherity claim the university has the power to interpret “dependents” however their insurance needs require, and ultimately to challenge the law in court because the state should have an interest in helping taxpayer-funded educational institutions further state aims. In this case the state should want the universities to stay competitive by attracting high-quality candidates, gay or straight—it’s dreadfully exciting stuff.

Texas A&M isn’t alone in its aims. The 21 department chairs in the University of Texas liberal arts college signed a similar resolution just last week. And with Texas’s two largest state schools pressuring courts to extend same-sex benefits to unmarried partners, the professors may have figured out an egghead way to eventually overthrow the state’s homophobic constitutional ban on same-sex marriages through the judicial system.

Is A&M’s Faculty Senate resolution likely to do this all on its own? Hardly, but coupled with other recent developments in Texas (such as the election of gay Houston mayor Annise Parker, the allowing of a lesbian divorce, and inquiries into police gay-abuses) the state continues its slow mosey towards an eventual showdown between bigots and queers.