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Employers rethink domestic partnership benefits

Domestic partnership benefits

Since the early 1980s, domestic partnerships have been formed by unmarried couples -- same-sex and opposite-sex alike -- who live together and seek the economic benefits of married couples.

For more than 30 years, many employers have offered benefits such as health and life insurance to these domestic partners. According to a New York Times article, a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey showed about 35 percent of private-sector workers could access domestic partner benefits for same-sex partners in 2014, and 30 percent of workers could access benefits for opposite-sex partners. However, now that same-sex marriage has been declared a constitutional right by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), many employers are rethinking offering benefits to domestic partners.

Their ultimatum to employees in domestic partnerships: If you want benefits, then get married.

Major companies rescind benefits

Even before the June 26 SCOTUS ruling to legalize same-sex marriage, a handful of large companies -- including Verizon and Delta Air Lines -- already decided they would no longer offer domestic partner benefits to employees in states where same-sex marriage was legal.

In July 2014, Verizon gave its employees until Jan. 1, 2015, to either marry their partner or lose their benefits coverage. Delta Air Lines also decided to phase out health benefits for domestic partners in states where same-sex marriage was legal, but agreed to provide a grace period of about two years.

However, not all large companies are following suit. For example, Google and Dow Chemical are still committed to maintaining domestic partner benefits as a way to boost employee recruitment.

So will more companies continue to phase out domestic partner benefits?

"Now that there is the ability for anyone to legally marry, some employers will determine that unmarried partner benefits are no longer necessary," says Todd Solomon, a partner at the law firm McDermott Will & Emery and author of a book on domestic partner benefits.

Companies may face accusations of discrimination

Another issue companies are wrestling with is the risk of being found guilty of discrimination if they choose to continue offering domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples but deny them to opposite-sex partners.

"Continuing to offer unmarried partner benefits to same-sex partners (but not opposite-sex partners) in future years might be seen as unfairly favoring same-sex couples over opposite-sex couples," says Solomon.

By refusing to provide domestic partner benefits altogether, companies would not be in danger of favoring same-sex partners over opposite-sex partners.

However, Sarah Wright, board chair for Unmarried Equality (UE), argues that denying benefits to unmarried couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, is discriminatory to those in a committed relationship.

"UE views domestic partner benefits as essential to affirming family diversity and to providing equal benefits for equal work," Wright says.

What to do if you lose your domestic partnership benefits

So what do you if you're in a domestic partnership and find out your employer will no longer be offering coverage to you or your partner?

Wright suggests a good first step would be to "engage" your employer through education. "Your employer may not fully understand why requiring an employee to get married to continue benefits is unfair; it privileges one type of relationship over all others and thus constitutes marital status discrimination."

Ken Matos, senior director of employment research and practice at the Families and Work Institute, recommends a similar course of action. He recommends appealing to the decision-makers, perhaps through the human resources department, explaining why domestic partner benefits are important to you even with access to marriage.

"That way it's clear that domestic partner benefits were not just a temporary fix on the way to marriage but for some people are the preferred state."

If your appeals to the decision-maker are unsuccessful, then you could also investigate other benefits your organization may offer. Check with your human resources department.

For more information and resources on domestic partnership benefits, check out the following websites:

  • Human Rights Campaign at

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