Monday, April 21, 2008


When Joan Procito left her job in Pennsylvania to follow her partner, Mary Jo, to Florida, she found out that she couldn't receive unemployment benefits. Pennsylvania has a "following the spouse" doctrine that allows a former employee to collect unemployment compensation if the reason s/he left a job was to follow a spouse to another location. Pennsylvania denies benefits to an unmarried partner, even if the couple is raising children together (as Joan and Mary Jo were). That's bad family policy. It penalizes people who actually support each other, emotionally and economically, simply because they aren't married. New York, on the other hand, gets it right. In that state, an employee who moves with an unmarried parter has "good cause" for leaving his or her job and can collect unemployment benefits. Gay rights advocates wanted the court to rule that the "following the spouse" doctrine was unconstitutional because Joan and her partner could not marry, but the real problem with the doctrine is that it requires marriage of anyone. Unemployment benefits always require an individualized determination of the former employee's eligibility. It's not hard to tell if someone's family circumstances precipitated the move. Joan's did, so she should have prevailed, whether her partner was named Mary Jo or just Joe.

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