Saturday, July 9, 2011

New York employers ending domestic partner benefits

And so it begins. New York allows same-sex couples to marry, and some employers are now eliminating domestic partner benefits. So the New York Times reported yesterday. This is exactly what Katherine Franke feared in her Times op-ed, published the morning that turned out to be the day (night,really) marriage equality came to New York. And these are large employers, whose policies affect thousands of people...Corning, IBM, Raytheon.

Every gay rights advocate quoted in the Times article opposes dropping DP benefits. But none of their organizations have made it a priority to say that no one should have to marry a partner to provide for their economic and emotional well-being. Case in point: Lambda Legal represents Arizona public employees with same-sex partners who don't want to lose their domestic partner benefits. Employees with different-sex partners are also losing their benefits, but Lambda takes the position that they aren't really losing their benefits because they can obtain them by marrying, which is not available to same-sex couples in Arizona. I decried their approach in this post precisely because it makes marriage mandatory for different-sex couples and suggests that it would be fine to have it mandatory for same-sex couples as well if they could marry.

It's worth remembering that domestic partner benefits started (in 1982) as an alternative to marriage and were always available to both same-sex and different-sex partners. The first employers to establish same-sex only policies were software developer Lotus in Massachusetts and Montefiore Medical Center in New York in 1991. They explicitly said their policies were based on the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. The next year, Levi Strauss became the first Fortune 500 company to provide DP benefits, and it chose to cover both same- and different-sex partners. There's been a split among employers ever since. The Times piece yesterday says Eastman Kodak, which covers both gay and straight couples, has no plans to require marriage of anyone.

Finally, as I wrote last fall, my employer, American University, has gone from covering only same-sex couples to covering both same- and different-sex couples. They were nudged in part by the fact that, even though DC allows same-sex couples to marry, DC also has registered domestic partnership which is open to different-sex, as well as same-sex, couples. Insurance policies that cover spouses must also cover domestic partners. American University now has a functional test for those who are not married or registered as domestic partners. The NY Times even published my letter to the editor about it. Scroll to the end of this page to read it. I hope some employers in New York follow.

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