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Same-sex marriage and benefits

June 30, 2015

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June is Pride Month. Do companies celebrate or commodify it? (Photo credit to Pexels)

Last week’s historic Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage in all 50 states should have a significant impact on the wedding economy. The $51-billion industry could see a $2.6 billion bump, Fortune reports, citing a study from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

But the ruling could also have significant business implications for employers and employees across the country.

One of the biggest is the decision companies face regarding domestic partnership benefits. This has popular way for companies to offer health insurance to gay and lesbian employees and their spouses that couldn’t be married before.

Now that these couples can be married, however, those employees can add their partners to those benefits like any other opposite-sex couple.

Strictly from a financial point of view, it would make sense for companies to end those benefits, since all their employees will have the same marriage opportunities.

Forbes reports that some companies like Delta Airlines and Verizon Communications already eliminated these benefits in states where same-sex marriage was legalized in recent years, requiring couples to get married if they want benefits like health insurance to extend to their spouse.

Four in five large companies currently offer employees “same-sex domestic partner health care coverage,” according to Forbes, which means a number of employees would have to get married or lose their benefits if companies decide to drop domestic partner coverage after same-sex marriage extends across the country.

It doesn’t just affect same-sex couples either. As the New York Times points out, the ruling has raised concerns that opposite-sex couples could lose benefits as well if companies require their employees to marry in order to receive benefits.

In the United States, 30 percent of workers have access to benefits for opposite-sex partners from their employers, the Times reports citing a National Compensation Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And the situation gets even more complicated.

A number of states don’t have anti-discrimination laws that offer individuals protection on the basis of sexual orientation, which has led some same-sex couples to want to stay on their domestic partnership benefits despite the recent gains in marriage equality.

Those same-sex partners could be at risk of being turned down for credit, housing and public accommodation, if they’re required to get married just for the health insurance benefits.

Groups like the Human Rights Campaign and Lambda Legal are advocating that companies keep domestic partnership benefits for everyone, including opposite-sex couples.

For story ideas, talk to local businesses and see how they plan to address the situation. Find out how couples in your area are responding to the recent court decision and if keeping their employee benefits will guide their plans for the future.


  • Rian Bosse

    Rian Bosse is a PhD student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. He earned his undergraduate degree in English from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2012 and worked for a small daily newspaper, the Daily Journal, in his hometown o...

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