A large, private Christian university in Arizona has decided to extend full spousal benefits to the married partners of its gay and lesbian employees despite continued adherence to religious principles reserving marriage solely for heterosexual couples.
Grand Canyon University officials said on Friday the benefits will now be extended to same-sex couples throughout the school's workforce following a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June legalizing these unions nationwide.
In a statement, school officials said the decision was made out of respect for the individuals involved throughout the university, and for "the system of government and laws that exist today."
But the university, which has about 3,500 faculty and staff, said the decision does not alter its deeply held stance that marriage "is a sacred union between a man and a woman," and it said that belief will continue to be preached in its curriculum and classrooms.
"This belief is not negotiable from a biblical perspective," said the three-page statement posted on the school's website.
The interdenominational Christian university, which has about 16,000 on-campus students and another 60,000 taking online classes, came under fire from employees in recent months over its policy denying benefits to same-sex spouses.
The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union put the school on notice in August that it was violating federal law and harming employees and their families. A school employee filed a complaint.
"This is an important win for everyone involved," said Victoria Lopez, the ACLU chapter's legal director, adding that a same-sex worker at the university called her in tears to share the good news.
"People should not be discriminated against because of who they are, who they love and who their families are," she said.
The decision was made following an annual review of personnel policies and was announced three days before employees can enroll or change their benefit plans, university spokesman Bob Romantic said. He said the change becomes effective Jan. 1.