Partners Task Force for Gay & Lesbian Couples
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Benefit Roadblocks
Issues raised by employers
© 2000, Demian

Occasionally, employers will raise objections to the suggestion that benefits be offered to domestic partners. These objections often fall into the following categories.

Health Care Costs
On average, the cost to employers runs between less-than-one percent to less-than-three percent of the total health care bill: the lower figure if benefits are only offered to same-sex couples; the higher figure when offered to all unmarried couples.

One reason for the smaller figure for same-sex couples is that some couples do not take advantage of health insurance because the worker’s partner already gets insurance from her or his own workplace.

Another reason that there are fewer numbers of same-sex couples applying for insurance benefits is that proclaiming they are domestic partners would mean stepping out of the closet. This could have dangerous repercussions should word get out and either of their workplaces have a hostile environment. Just the fear of reprisal — reality-based or not — could prevent some couples from such a declaration.

At less-than-one percent, insurance coverage costs are small. Even in a worst case scenario, say HIV management, the average cost comes to less than $50,000 per year. By comparison, the average cost for one premature baby is in excess of $300,000. Plus, HIV/AIDS is far from universal among gay men, and lesbians rarely get HIV.

One other item which keeps costs down for gay men is that they do not have as many children as the average number of opposite-sex couple. Because many gay men choose not to have children, they actually represent an insurance savings.

When benefits where first offered, some insurance companies expected greater costs and charged a higher premium. Those costs never materialized. Presently, most insurance companies charge the same for all employees’ partners.

Fraud has not materialized. Laws are already in place to cover fraudulently obtaining insurance. Plus, the majority of people appear to be honest.

For some, revealing one’s domestic partner (and likely sexual orientation) is enough to thwart allowing a casual friend to get insurance coverage. Plus, signing up for benefits makes an employee responsible for their partner’s medical expenses.

There is nothing magical about a marriage license — it does not prevent fraudulently obtaining insurance services.

What If They Sign Up Their Roommate
Any opposite-sex couple may obtain a marriage license even if they are merely “the latest crush.” They do not need to share income, live together, have sex, have children or even like each other. They can be in prison, they can be foreign nationals. Any opposite-sex couple — even if their true relationship is like that of being “just roommates” — has this right.

Legal marriage does not produce or signify anything qualitative about a relationship. Legal marriage is nothing more than an activator for many different kinds of benefits and responsibilities.

If an employer wants to give equal benefits to all workers who are in a relationship — including those couples denied legal marriage — then they need to do so without any “qualifiers” (length of time, living or financial arrangements) for those relationships.

If personnel doesn’t ask for a copy of the marriage license to give benefits to those who say they are legally married, then they have no business asking anything different from other types of domestic partners.

Insurance Company Objections
When domestic partner benefits were first offered, some employers could not find insurance companies to manage the benefits. This is no longer the case. There are scores of insurers willing to add more enrolees to the pool. [See Insurance Providers.] For large firms, there is also the option of becoming self-insured.

Since benefits are defined by the business and not by the state, state agencies cannot legally decide which employees are eligible for benefits.

Publicity Repercussions
There has been very little negative publicity regarding offering benefits to same-sex couples. One notable exception was the reaction by one fundamentalist group to the Disney Corporation. Oddly, they waited a year after the plan was instituted before complaining. It appears they used their protest for political and economic gain, not out of any genuine concern.

Their main argument was the claim that offering benefits was somehow bad for families and especially children. They incorrectly presumed that same-sex couples were not a valid family and that same-sex couples did not have children who would, in fact, benefit by the insurance coverage.

All Unmarried Treated the Same
Some companies have excused themselves from offering domestic partner benefits saying that withholding benefits is not “illegal” — they are, they claim, treating all unmarried people the same. Discrimination of every sort has been “legal” at some time or another — that doesn’t make it right. And it shouldn’t be used to justify a bad or unethical policy. A major purpose of these plans is to compensate for social inequities — allowing same-sex couples to protect their families. It is good business practice to encourage the family lives of all employees.

Immoral Lifestyles
Claims of moral superiority have been used throughout history as justification to control, damage or destroy others. Those who hope to capture the “moral superiority” high ground employ such terms. The term “immoral lifestyle” itself is really meaningless because no entire class of people are either moral or immoral.

If they are talking about gay men and lesbians, the term “lifestyle” (which really means how a class of people spends money) has even less meaning because gay people come from the entire range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

By denying benefits to same-sex couples, some of whom have children, they are ultimately making a hardship on the children as well. To do so is morally indefensible.

If the use of “immoral lifestyle” or similar term is used, it could very well signal a level of discomfort or hate. Ultimately, no one can change the mind of people who dislike others — be they gay or black or women or immigrant — and it is up to courageous people to do the right thing and treat all human beings equally.

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