Student Senate passes resolution to benefit same-sex couples

Senator Aaron Yohai sponsored the resolution in support of providing health benefits to same-sex couples (photo by John Irwin).
Senator Aaron Yohai sponsored the resolution in support of providing health benefits to same-sex couples (photo by John Irwin).

At their November 7 meeting, the Mason Student Senate passed a resolution in support of extending Virginia marriage benefits to homosexual couples employed by the university. 

As stated in the legislation, the federal government recognizes marriages of same-sex couples who are married in states where it is legal, even if the couples move to states where it is not. However, Virginia deems all homosexual relationships “null and void” and does not recognize those couples legally married in other states.

The resolution was submitted by faculty senate liaison Aaron Yohai, who modeled it after a resolution supporting the same cause that was passed by Faculty Senate on October 10. According to Yohai, that piece of legislation is part of an effort to bring this issue to President Ángel Cabrera.

“[The resolution passed by faculty senate] is an initiative of some faculty members who are trying to get this accomplished by providing President Cabrera with tools to advocate at his level,” Yohai said. “Part of that effort is to have similar resolutions passed by the student senate and staff senate.”

Clerk Samantha Miller was one of four members of student senate to vote “nay.” In an online transcription of the meeting, Miller wanted to see the resolution expanded to have more impact on students.

“I am openly bisexual,” Miller said in the transcription. “I am not the biggest fan of the resolution...I like the idea and I would love to see it grow towards students. I think [if we pass a same-sex resolution it] we should come from us, and [be] something we created not piggy back[ed] from the faculty senate.”

If all three senates were to pass legislation supporting this cause, it would represent a large population of the university, and since students would represent the largest portion, Yohai believes student government can play a significant role in addressing the issue of same-sex couple benefits.

“We represent by far the largest constituency - 30,000 students plus some...I absolutely think that people care what we have to say since we are the up and coming generation, and we’re not kids, we’re adults,” Yohai said. “We can all vote. That goes a long way.”

Yohai has worked with Kevin Jackson, the Undersecretary for State Government Affairs, on the issue. In January, Yohai and Jackson will present the resolution to the Virginia State legislature as part of the annual “Mason Lobbies” event.  Jackson said it will be a lobbying priority.

“This is definitely a huge issue that impacts not only the faculty and staff but students and culture,” Jackson said. “It impacts who wants to come to Mason as a public Virginia institution. It impacts the caliber of faculty and staff we are able to hire. It makes a more competitive institution if this is finally implemented.”

Yohai believes this resolution represents an opinion held by many Mason students.

“You can look at the past voting record of our campus in any election [to see this view]. It overwhelmingly favors the side of the spectrum that has taken marriage equality onto its platform. Also, it’s in the language of the various offices of the university and our mission statement as a university and the mission statement of all the offices. Equality and inclusion are at the top of our that we are prepared to live in an equal and inclusive society.”

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