Human Resources News & Insights

Same-sex benefits take big steps forward

For the first time, the federal government will allow the same-sex partner of a federal worker to receive employer-sponsored health benefits.

Karen Golinski, a federal lawyer in California sued in federal district court to have the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) declared unconstitutional.

Golinski was seeking benefits for her wife, Amy Cunninghis, and her suit was successful. The district court ruled the DOMA was unconstitutional.

As a result, the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management is allowing Cunninghis to receive employer-sponsored health benefits.

The feds also made it clear that Cunninghis will be an exception, not the rule, when it comes to issuing same-sex benefits for federal workers.

But even though only Golinski and Cunninghis are benefiting from the legal battle now, one would assume the decision paves the way for others in the same position.

Republicans are appealing the ruling.

Bill to extend benefits gains more support

Soon after the court’s ruling, 20 senators signed on as co-sponsors for the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which seeks to extend federal healthcare, family and medical leave, and retirement benefits to domestic partners of federal workers.

The bill was introduced in November. In order for couples to receive benefits, the bill would require gay and lesbian employees to swear in an affidavit that they are in a committed same-sex domestic partnership, and that their partners are not related by blood and are at least 18 years old.

Senator Joseph Lieberman’s (I-CT) office said the bill would place the government in line with nearly 60% of Fortune 500 companies and 50% of employers with 5,000 or more workers that offer benefits to employees’ same-sex domestic partners.

More businesses offering tax benefits

In other domestic partner benefits news, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a LGBT civil rights organization, just reported it has now found at least 35 businesses offering same-sex benefits that have agreed to pay the required tax on those benefits.

That’s nearly triple the 12 companies HRC found last year offering to do that.

Under federal tax law, employees are required to pay income taxes on the health and wellness benefits their same-sex partners receive. Heterosexual married couples do not have to pay the same tax.

But the HRC is reporting that more companies are “grossing up” lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees’ salaries to cover the income tax.

The employers reportedly paying for the tax include:

  • American Express
  • Apple
  • Bank of America
  • Cisco Systems
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers, and
  • Yahoo!
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  • Common Sense

    Am I understanding this correctly? The federal government will now require a greater burden on heterosexual employees when compared to homosexual employees when receiving benefits. A homosexual employee could add a partner to his/her health plan with a simple affidavit stating that he or she was in a “committed relationship” whereas a heterosexual employee would be required to show proof of marriage to receive the same benefits.

    Can I be so bold to ask some one to define “committed relationship”? It seems quite subjective and ripe for fraud and abuse. How long is a commitment? Is it a lifetime? One year? One hour? Until the benefits kick in? Until the next committed relationship? Can I commit to more than one person at the same time? For that matter, how do you define relationship? Is a same-sex platonic relationship adequate or will the government require the sex to grant the benefits?

    As a “straight” man, why can I not simply commit to my girlfriend of the month and get her the rich government benefits, when my “gay” co-workers will be able do just that with their partners?

    This policy seems to be a reverse discrimination against “straight” people. I thought we were a society striving for less discrimination, this policy would do the exact opposite. Instead of having 3% of the “gay” population discriminated against we would have 97% “straight” population facing discrimination.

    Do we as tax payers really want a policy that is ripe for fraud and abuse that spends more money to discriminate against more people?

  • MMAN

    @Common Sense- I must say that I agree with you on this one. WELL SAID! It seems that, as a nation, we get more and more entangled in messes such as these where the federal government and businesses are getting wrapped up in catering to these “special interest” groups. Moreover, the way it seems, keeps getting paved for them to make their lives a whole lot easier than those who choose to live normal, traditional lives. Yup, I said it, normal and traditional.

  • Teri

    What about the discrimination shown towards gay people in the fact that they can’t get married? I’m sure those gay couples would rather be able to show their employer a marriage certificate than an affidavit. And it sounds to me like the burden of proof is the same, I need to show them a piece of paper proving my relationship. It’s not like you need to go through a lot to get a marriage certificate. I went to the courthouse and paid them $75, that’s it.
    In that same vein, what keeps straight people from getting married just for the benefits? Or people who do not get legally divorced to keep their spouse on their health insurance.
    We cover domestic partnerships at my company (same sex as well as opposite sex) and the employee needs to sign an affidavit and get it notarized stating that they are in a committed relationship of at least a year, live together, rely on each other for day to day support, etc.
    I don’t see this as discrimination against straight people, nothing is being taken away from straight people, while benefits were being kept from the husbands and wives of gay people.

  • Common Sense

    @Teri. I disagree that a marriage certificate and a affidavit stating one is in a committed relationship require the same burden of proof. A marriage certificate represents a legal (sometimes religious) union and lifetime commitment with legal obligations. I really have no idea what the affidavit of a committed relationship represents (see above). I do know that it does not come close to a marriage.

    Teri says, “I don’t see this as discrimination against straight people, nothing is being taken away from straight people…’

    According to your argument, a person can not be discriminated against if they have had nothing taken away from them. (Never mind that one group (homosexuals) have any easier burden of proof to fulfill than another group (heterosexuals)). I really don’t think it works that way. I believe your argument is the same argument many segregationists used back in the 50’s and 60’s to promote the idea of “colored” and “white” movie theaters, drinking fountains, lunch counters…? After all it is not really discrimination since “nothing is really being taken away” from the “coloreds”.

    The fact is that the federal rules used to be discriminatory against 3% of the population and now it’s discriminatory against 97% of the population. (Tyranny of the minority?)

    The solution to this “discrimination problem ” is quite simple if in fact the gay community is sincere about not wanting to be discriminated against, I would suggest they implement “civil union” laws like the one we have here in Illinois. The Civil Union law provides the same “legal obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits as are afforded or recognized by a marriage contract.” (Jeremy Stewart)

    Words have meanings, Marriage has been defined as a union between a man and a woman for thousands of years. It is the foundation of almost every society. Why are so many of the gay activists insistent on redefining marriage? I would be willing to bet civil union laws could pass in almost every state. (Even many staunch conservatives like me find civil unions amicable) Gays and lesbians would be able to partake in the sames rights and responsibilities as straight people in short order. Unfortunately the gay activists are not content with civil unions, they are insistent that they change the meaning of marriage. Why? If they are going to redefine marriage, what is stopping them from changing the definition of “male” and “female”? Both concepts are equally absurd. After all, why can’t a women be called a male? It seems discriminatory against women.

  • Stuey

    It’s simple. Afford gay people the dignity to marry who they want to be committed to and then they too can show a marriage license. The affidavit would be not required if gay couples were not being discriminated against with regard to marriage. So please don’t get all high and mighty claiming gay couples are recieving something straight couples can’t. If you are a straight couple living together and want these benefits, get married. You are fortunate that you can.

  • MMAN

    @Stuey…what’s wrong with you? Since when is/was marriage defined as anything goes? Don’t call marriage, what has been for eons defined as a union between a man and a woman, a union between a man and a man or a woman and a woman. That would be akin to renaming darkness light and light darkness…biblical principle here but no less for secular benefit as well. This is not discrimination as you suggest but the disrespect of natural law.

  • Common Sense

    @stuey Wow, I think you may have figured it out. Your solution to have one side simply acquiesce to the other side is indeed a “simple”. I am kicking myself for not thinking of that? If only proponents of traditional marriage, an institution that cultures around the world have used as the basic building block of society for thousands of years, would just come to their senses and agree to change the basic nature of marriage in order to serve the wants of 3% of the population, we could all move on to solving the other issues in our society. Maybe we could solve all of our disagreements with your “simple” technique. (E.g. “global warming” alarmists should simply acquiesce to “global warming” deniers.)
    To claim I am “high and mighty” is a disingenuous argument, especially after I presented a compromise of “civil unions” with the same “legal obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits as marriage. Civil unions would avoid the problem of requiring discriminatory affidavits.

    P.S. Since you seem to be in favor of changing the definition of marriage to be more inclusive, I would be very interested in knowing if you would be in favor of affording people “the dignity to marry who they want to be committed to…” if it involved polygamy. After all your concern seems to be about people being discriminated from marriage. Should we also include the man who wants to marry his 8 wives?

  • MMAN

    @Common Sense…or if a man would want to marry his horse even?