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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
December 24, 2004

Some Massachusetts companies still deny gay spouse benefits

Boston--The next battle over Massachusetts� same-sex marriages is heating up, this time in the field of spousal health insurance benefits.

A number of self-insured companies are refusing to grant benefits to the same-sex spouses of employees. Although these couples are legally married under Massachusetts law, the firms say that their self-insurance is regulated by federal law and thus not bound by the state�s definition of marriage.

General Dynamics, a Virginia defense contractor with 3,000 employees in Massachusetts, uses the definition of marriage in the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which specifies that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Among other employers using that tack are the FedEx delivery service and Adecco temporary employment agency.

Those firms use health care plans in which employees pay their insurance premiums to an employer-run account instead of to an outside insurance company. The employer then pays medical bills for the employees.

Such plans are often less expensive for companies, and are regulated by federal law, giving weight to the argument that the definition of spouse used for them should comply with federal law as well.

Not all self-insuring employers opted to deny their workers spousal benefits, however. Gillette offers benefits to their employees� spouses, as does UniteHere, a garment and hotel workers� union.

N-Star, the second-largest electric utility in Massachusetts, does not provide benefits for same-sex spouses of employees, but says that it is a matter for the collective bargaining process with its mostly-union work force.

�I don�t feel valued,� John Richard, an employee with NStar, told the Boston Globe. The company �has been on this diversity kick . . . but when this came up, they dropped the ball.�

Richard inquired about benefits when he married his partner, Tom Cerruto, on May 23, and was turned down. His union told him to file a grievance.

The union�s contract with NStar expires next spring, and insurance benefits for same-sex spouses is one of the issues that will be in negotiation.

Michele Granda, an attorney for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, said, �There are some good legal reasons why we might be able to challenge.�

She stated that the issue of legal same-sex marriage opens the door to reinterpreting scores of federal laws, and companies operating in Massachusetts should also be accountable to the state�s gay-inclusive equal rights laws.

 

 

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