SHRINKING COVERAGE

The Days Of Domestic Partnership Benefits Could Be Numbered

domestic partnershipNot that long ago, domestic partnership benefits were a key measure of gay rights advancement. It was less than six years ago that Washington state became the first in the nation to have voters approve such benefits for state citizens.

Now, domestic partnership benefits could be heading for the graveyard.

With the Supreme Court ruling last Friday, a big chunk of the justification for domestic partnership benefits vanished. The benefits for same-sex couples depended upon a separate-but-equal argument to avoid full marriage benefits. Now that marriage is available nationwide, that reasoning no longer applies.

Statewide domestic partnership registers are completely gone. What’s at stake now is employee coverage.

A number of large employers have been moving away from domestic partnership benefits. Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, Verizon, IBM and Delta Airlines, among others, had already stopped offering domestic partnership benefits in states that had marriage equality. Their ultimatum to employees: if you want benefits for your partner, marry him or her.

“With no legal barriers to same-sex marriage, it is likely some employers will eliminate their benefits for unmarried same-sex partners,” Todd Solomon, who has written a book on domestic partner benefits, told The New York Times.

It’s as much a practical consideration as a political one. HR departments would rather have a simplified system for employee benefits. Domestic partnership benefits are more complex to administer, because they are subject to additional tax requirements.

The Human Rights Campaign is urging companies to maintain the benefits.

“If an L.G.B.T. employee is, in effect, ‘outed’ by being required to obtain a public marriage license in a state that doesn’t provide explicit nondiscrimination protections, it could place that employee and their family at risk of being denied credit, housing and public accommodation,” Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, told The Times.

The cost of domestic partnership benefits is pretty miniscule–about 1% of a company’s health care plan.  But as employers squeeze every dime they can, domestic partnership benefits could be an easy target.