Columbia Law prof Katherine Franke got a prime placement today in the New York Times for a tempered view of what comes with marriage equality for same-sex couples. The piece is well-timed as everyone watches the cliffhanger in the New York Senate. Among Katherine's excellent points -- that the availability of marriage has made domestic partner benefits disappear and that neither same-sex nor different-sex couples should be forced to marry to provide for the health of their partners. Katherine fears she could be in this position if New York allows same-sex couples to marry.
I had this fear as well, but was thrilled and relieved to discover that my employer, American University, went in the opposite direction. As I wrote about at length in this post last fall, AU switched this year from requiring that different-sex couples marry while providing DP benefits to same-sex couples, to allowing gay and straight employees to provide health care and other benefits to their partners regardless of whether they marry. Marriage or registration as domestic partners permits automatic inclusion in the employee benefits programs; a couple who does neither must meet a perfectly reasonable functional test.
To those who are skeptical about state domestic partner/civil union schemes open to both same-sex and different-sex couples (Nevada, Illinois, Hawaii, in addition to DC), I offer this thought. AU human resources personnel report that the fact that both same- and different-sex partners can register in DC (they can also marry of course) was one factor that led them to equalize the availability to AU employees.
If marriage equality comes to NY, I'll suggest to Katherine Franke that Columbia follow AU's lead.