FOUNTAIN HILL, Pa. -

St. Luke's University Health Network will be granting same-sex spousal benefits to its gay and lesbian employees in 2014.

The announcement was made Tuesday by Pennsylvania Diversity Network, which has been encouraging St. Luke's to offer the benefits for nearly three years, and confirmed by officials at St. Luke's.

A communication sent to St. Luke's employees stated: “In an effort to be more inclusive of the diverse nature of our employment population, St. Luke’s will begin offering same-sex benefits to benefit eligible employees effective January 1, 2014. A letter is being sent out to all benefit eligible employee’s homes today explaining this new offering.”

That communication also indicated the insurance enrollment period would reopen from Dec. 9-20  for employees affected by the new policy.

St. Luke's also advised: “Employees who have been legally married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage may add their spouse on our health benefits as of January 1st.

"Employees who are not legally married but who have been in a same-sex domestic partner relationship for at least one year and who are financially dependent upon each other may add their domestic partner on our health benefits.

"Children of a same-sex spouse or a same-sex domestic partner, who meet the dependent eligibility definition, are also eligible for our health benefits.”

Earlier this fall, Pennsylvania Diversity Network presented St. Luke's VP of Media Relations Ken Szydlow more than 1,200 cards signed by community members asking St. Luke's to extend equal spousal benefits to gay and lesbian employees.

"We are very pleased that St. Luke's is joining Lehigh Valley Health Network, Good Shepherd Hospital, Reading Hospital, Geisinger Medial Center, Temple University Health and many area corporations in granting equal spousal benefits to all its employees," said Pennsylvania Diversity Network's Executive Director Liz Bradbury.

She continued: "It is unfair to deny gay and lesbian employees who are legally married these equal benefits, and recognizing that, is the right thing for St. Luke's to do. Now all five of the largest local employers grant equal benefits. St. Luke's is not only doing the fair and equal thing, but is now in a better position to encourage and retain the best employees in their system.

She added: “Many employees will be positively affected by this new policy, not just for the benefits, but for the family medical leave an employee will now be able to take to care for a loved one."

Pennsylvania Diversity Network is an Allentown-based organization working for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.