NOTE: So as to avoid confusion, I changed the headline to specify, though it is in the article, that we are talking about University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), not UA — that is in Tuscaloosa. UA does not have partner benefits.

I can’t tell you how earth-shattering this move is down in Alabama. My wife’s home state is definitely behind the 8-ball when it comes to LGBT rights, and that’s why I feel it’s important to feel the difference in progress between NC and AL when I go to Equality Alabama’s Conference each year. Politically, the one bright spot is Jefferson County, where Birmingham is; it voted Blue in 2008, but it’s surrounded by by a sea of Red.  As it is in most states where equality is slow to change at the state level, legislators (Dem and Rep in these states, sadly) seem to be the last to understand that affirming the rights of LGBT cities is good for business and growth. And organizations won’t recruit top talent with discriminatory policies. Man, this is a sea change, since the university is the city’s largest employer:

The University of Alabama at Birmingham will extend health insurance benefits to same-sex partners beginning Jan. 1 in a move officials said was designed in part to help it compete with top medical schools when recruiting faculty.

Faculty and staff were able to enroll same-sex partners and their children in medical, dental and vision plans for the first time earlier this month, for coverage beginning in the new year. The move makes UAB the first of the big three universities in Alabama to offer domestic partner benefits to staff and faculty. Neither the University of Alabama nor Auburn University offer such benefits, though UA is studying the issue, spokespersons for those schools said.

Dale Turnbough, a UAB spokeswoman, said the change was made “to create a positive, supportive and diverse work environment,” and to help the school compete for new faculty with other National Institute of Health-funded medical schools. Most top medical schools, including Vanderbilt, Duke and Johns Hopkins offer such benefits, she said.

“We believe this change will help us remain competitive
,” she said.

Note to Red State legislators that are dragging their feet, citing biblical texts to condemn the homos…your budgets are in the hole, your tax base is shot, and you’re continuing to ensure your state’s third class status by clinging to homophobia. It’s time to let it go.

So what changed at UAB? A documentary by Jade Delisle, “One Closed Door After Another.” Faculty and staff were interviewed and they candidly discussed the exodus of staff from the institution, and missing out on superior candidates UAB tried to recruit who looked at the lack of support for same-sex partners and walked.

Most top universities offer same-sex spousal equivalent benefits (encompassing more than just health benefits), so UAB is taking that first important step that will signal it’s ready to move into the 21st century.