A University of Texas lecturer was in the second day of a hunger strike Tuesday after the university refused to budge on its policy not to extend spousal benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of employees.
"The fact that the university is conducting itself in this manner makes me feel like I'm a persona non grata here, a person whose rights are less important than others," said Uri Horesh, a lecturer of Arabic in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies.
Horesh, 37, began his campaign for the university to grant benefits, such as health insurance, to employees' same-sex partners in November, when he filed a complaint with the university's Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. The university has pursued neither his original complaint nor an appeal, citing state law, which prohibits state institutions from recognizing same-sex unions, Horesh said.
The university has a responsibility to be more progressive than the state, he said.
"For some reason, some people in this state and others have a twisted view of what's moral or what's right," Horesh said. "You can think whatever you want about same-sex partnerships, but to discriminate against someone because they're gay, that to me is as immoral as discriminating against them because they're black, deaf, blind."
The university's nondiscrimination policy prohibits unlawful discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but Horesh's complaint could not be pursued because "to provide him with the remedy he sought would mean that the university would be violating state law," said Linda Millstone, UT's associate vice president for institutional equity and workforce diversity.
"I and other administrators are not unsympathetic to his concerns," Millstone said. "The issue of providing benefits in today's society is critically important in the recruitment and retention of employees, faculty, (and) staff."
Millstone said UT is looking at the domestic-partner policies at other state universities.
Horesh, who as of Tuesday afternoon had consumed only water and vitamins for about 40 hours, said he intends to fulfill "all my duties (at UT) to the extent that my health will allow."
"I'm not going to start eating until this matter is resolved or I'm taken to the hospital," Horesh said. "Whatever happens first."