Grand Canyon University announced today that it is reversing a long-standing policy and will now extend equal health and employment benefits to its same-sex married employees.
The decision comes after months of public and media scrutiny and a promise by GCU President Brian Mueller to revisit the official policy.
In a lengthy letter issued today on the subject, the university reiterated its deeply held Christian values but said it recognized that national legal changes meant the school needed to re-evaluate its policy:
“Since its inception in 1949, Grand Canyon University has been founded upon strong Christian principles and a commitment to the full inspiration of Scripture as the infallible, true and authoritative Word of God . . .
“As such, GCU’s sincerely held religious belief is that the Bible is clear about marriage being a sacred union between a man and a woman, which will continue to be espoused throughout the University’s curriculum and classrooms . . .
“GCU is making a conscious choice to maintain its religious beliefs, while respecting and honoring its neighbors, as well as the system of government and laws that exist today, by extending employee benefits to spouses of lawfully married same-sex couples…
“The University’s decision to extend benefits has been made freely and without compulsion by the state. The University has voluntarily chosen to extend benefits as a way of demonstrating grace and compassion toward individuals and families that are affected by our decision.”
Though the letter’s authors, presumably conscious of their audience, went to great lengths to assure that the change “[does] not and will not change GCU’s sincerely held religious belief that marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman,” the new policy is hailed as a victory by many here.
“We were really pleased that they made this change,” Victoria Lopez, legal director of the Arizona American Civil Liberties Union, says. “It’s the right decision for GCU to make [and] it means a great deal for the employees and their families that need benefit.”
After being contacted by GCU employees — both professors and other faculty — who said the school’s benefits policies were discriminatory, Lopez wrote a letter to Mueller about the issue in August:
“The denial of benefits to LGBT employees in same-sex marriages is in violation of federal law and severely harms those employees and their families,” she writes. “GCU has a legal and ethical duty to provide full employment benefits to LGBT employees in same-sex marriages.”
A few weeks later, she received a response from Mueller, explaining that the university would be re-evaluating many of its human resources policies in November, and that it would consider whether to extend benefits to families of LGBT employees.
Today’s announcement was GCU’s answer.
“It really is a step in the direction of saying that there shouldn’t be laws and policies that are based in religious [doctrine] that are being used to discriminate,” Lopez says, adding that one of the two initial clients who came to her about the issue called her this morning and said she was “moved to tears” by the decision.
“So as we’re thinking about how this issue is playing out in other contexts, [what happened today proves] thoughtful consideration about how to balance religious beliefs with fairness and policies that are not discriminatory [is possible].”
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Read Lopez's Letter to Mueller:
Read Mueller's Response to Lopez: