|Ballot measures against same sex
marriage adopted by voters in Michigan and Kentucky are having
an impact on employee benefits in those states. However,
rather than forcing domestic partner benefits to be
discontinued, the voter-approved measures are causing benefits
plans to be expanded to include additional beneficiaries.
In Michigan, for example, the Court
of Appeal ruled last February that a ballot measure adopted in
that state prohibited government agencies from expanding spousal
benefits to unmarried heterosexual and gay couples.
However, the court noted a loophole in the law which would allow benefits
to be given to household members of government workers.
Michigan State University, which
had been operating a benefits plan for same-sex couples, reacted
to the ruling by reshaping its plan. The new plan will start on July 1.
Instead of calling the
beneficiaries "domestic partners," the new plan extends benefits
to "other eligible individuals."
In order to fit this category, a
person must have lived with an employee for 18 months without being either a tenant or a legal
dependent. The person also can’t be automatically eligible to
inherit the employee’s assets under Michigan law, which means
blood relatives are not eligible.
So who are these other eligible
individuals?. Basically, most of them would be
romantically involved unmarried couples, gay or straight, as
well as platonic friends and roommates.
The City of Kalamazoo, which also
had a same-sex benefits plan for its workers, is now considering
a similar "loophole" plan.
City commissioners will review the
new plan on June 29.
the University of Kentucky has been grappling with a similar
issue. A domestic partner benefits plan -- for same and
opposite-sex couples -- was recently adopted by University
Trustees. However, the state Attorney General ruled that such a benefits plan would conflict
with a voter-passed law prohibiting same-sex marriage or
General opinion, much like the Michigan appellate decision,
highlighted an escape hatch available to the University if it
wanted to expand benefits to those in non-spousal relationships.
Benefits for household members is the answer.
In order to
avoid a lawsuit by the Attorney General, University Trustees
have voted to expand benefits eligibility to any one adult
dependent who lives with the employee.
our goal of trying to provide affordable health care coverage to
our employees and their dependents as part of our efforts to
create an attractive and more competitive compensation package
for our faculty and staff,”
President Lee Todd
said in a
statement to the press.
of Kentucky is one of two public colleges in that state offering
partner benefits. A spokesperson the other college, the
University of Louisville, said that the school is studying the
Attorney General's opinion and considering whether or not to
expand its benefits plan.
ago, the University of California faced a slightly different,
but similar dilemma. Trustees initially voted to grant
benefits to same-sex couples but not to heterosexual couples.
state Labor Commissioner ruled that same-sex benefits would
violate a state law prohibiting sexual orientation
discrimination in employment, Trustees responded by expanding
the class of eligible beneficiaries also to include dependent blood
relatives. Then, after the passage of several
years, Trustees expanded eligibility criteria to include
unmarried opposite-sex couples as well.
tug-of-war over employee benefits programs in Michigan and
Kentucky has implications for benefits plans in other parts of
the nation. The
Nevada Public Employee Benefits Program
Board, for example, is considering three options for expanding
would expand coverage only to same-sex couples. The second would
add unmarried opposite-sex partners. The third, which is an
option to avoid a conflict with the voter-approved anti same-sex
marriage law in that state, would allow the employee to select
one adult household member to be eligible as a dependent.
also have constitutional amendments or statutes prohibiting same-sex
marriage. Many of these
laws are worded broadly enough to arguably prohibit
benefits plans for domestic partners.
So the legal loophole in
Michigan and the statutory escape hatch in Kentucky may be
appealing to a large number of benefits administrators and
personnel managers who are looking for a way to expand benefits
eligibility beyond those who are legally married.
To read other editions of
Column One, click here.
Unmarried America 2007
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
email@example.com. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and