MILWAUKEE –– Marquette University will extend health benefits to same-sex domestic partners starting next year.

The extension is contingent upon domestic partners registering their status with Milwaukee County clerk’s office. The county started registering same-sex couples as domestic partners last year, according to university spokeswoman Kate Venne.

Venne told Catholic News Service that there are 13 other Jesuit colleges and universities that offer health benefits to same-sex partners. Marquette’s package will include medical, dental and vision care.

Melissa Collins DiLeonardo, a spokeswoman for the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, of which Marquette is a member, said it was collecting information on which of its member schools was offering same-sex employee benefits, but noted that each college oversees its own benefit packages without input from the association.

A spokesman for the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities said the Washington-based association has no information on how prevalent the practice is among U.S. Catholic institutions of higher learning.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has not addressed Marquette’s new policy directly. “That’s really Marquette’s decision,” said Gillian Lester-George de Montesinos, an archdiocesan spokeswoman. “They’re run by an independent board.”

Venne said consultants used by Marquette before announcing the policy advised that, when comparably size businesses added same-sex partners to their health benefits package, employer costs went up just .01 percent.

Since the announcement March 24 of the same-sex health benefits, Marquette has gotten “a handful of comments both pro and against,” Venne said.

Marquette is the third Catholic college in Milwaukee to offer health benefits to same-sex partners. Both Alverno College and Cardinal Stritch University offer the same benefits.

Last year, Marquette reached a confidential settlement with a lesbian whose job offer for a deanship at the Jesuit-run university was withdrawn. Some Marquette faculty and students, upset by the decision, suggested the university made it because of the candidate’s sexual orientation and because school officials questioned some of her published works and their relationship to the Catholic Church’s mission.

University officials said the search for a dean for the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences was closed “without identifying an acceptable candidate for permanent appointment.” Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee had raised concerns over the proposed hiring. The college currently is headed by an interim dean.

Another Marquette spokeswoman, Mary Pat Pfeil, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that the issue of benefits has been raised by employee groups and student government since at least since 2007, and again in the wake of the hiring debate as a way to improve the university climate for gays and lesbians.

Pfeil called the benefits extension it in keeping with Catholic teaching. “The benefits provision is an expression of pastoral care and an acknowledgment that health care is a basic human right,” she told the newspaper.

Jesuit Fr. Robert A. Wild, Marquette’s president, told The Associated Press: “If we are truly pastoral in our application of the Jesuit principle of ‘cura personalis’ (care for the entire person), I asked myself if I could reconcile that with denying health benefits to a couple who have legally registered their commitment to each other.”