Mercer offers benefits for same-sex couples

On Oct. 28 Mercer’s President, William Underwood, approved a policy that will extend employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners. This comes days after Shorter University introduced a Personal Lifestyle Statement asking faculty and staff for the rejection of homosexuality, pre-marital sex and adultery.
Under Mercer’s new policy, benefits are available to same-sex domestic partners of Mercer employees who are eligible for coverage under the Mercer Health Plan and the Mercer Dental Plan. Other benefits available to partners under this policy include tuition waiver, issuance of a Bear Card, and University Center and library privileges.
President Underwood made the decision after receiving input from a study committee appointed last spring. The committee, chaired by Dr. Mary Alice Morgan, Senior Vice Provost for Service-Learning, spent several months researching other institutions that enforced similar policies and considered the legal, financial and ethical implications of implementing such a policy at Mercer.
Institutions with similar policies include Emory, Vanderbilt and Duke.
Larry Brumley, Senior VP for Marketing Communications and Chief of Staff, said they had them look into the best practices and see how they handled domestic partner benefits. “They analyzed the information and made a recommendation for the president.”
The move makes Mercer more competitive in recruiting and retaining staff as the question of domestic benefits is often asked among prospective employees.
Shorter has claimed their policy enforces their stance on Christian values. Since 2008, the University has hired only Christians.
According to Shorter’s president, Donald Dowless, employees who do not sign the pledge may face termination.

Dowless said the school has a right to hire whomever they want. “Anything that is not biblical, we do not accept,” he told WSBTV.
Since the pledge has been made public regional and national media have been reporting on the petitions, opinions and protests. The reaction towards Shorter’s policy is not a welcoming one as faculty, who renamed anonymous, told media outlets that the pledge prompts witch-hunts. Mercer has been used as a comparison in many articles since both schools announced their policies.
Mercer students and faculty seem less burdened by the reaction to their own policy, citing that it is a step in the right direction.
This wouldn’t be the first time Mercer has broken traditional protocol. Mercer was one of the first private institutions in Georgia to allow African-American students.
Does this endanger Mercer’s faith based values? “No, not at all, it is an outgrowth of our core values,” said Brumley. Mercer currently has a discrimination policy that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Mercer has been distancing itself from the strict lines of Baptist affiliation for some years now. The school ended its 170-year relationship with the Georgia Baptist Convention in 2006. One of the factors that led to the separation occurred when a student group on campus was doing a series of programs dealing with matters of human sexuality. Shorter is still associated with the Convention.
This raises the question that as Mercer becomes more liberal will it ever break its ties as a faith based institution?
“Currently Mercer has no intention of abandoning that part of its mission,” said Brumley.