Alameda County Fire Department and CalPERS Provide Equal Benefits to Same-Sex Spouse After National Center for Lesbian Rights Intervenes

The Alameda County Fire Department and the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) have agreed to extend spousal benefits to same-sex spouses married outside of California, in compliance with a new state law.  The changes came about after the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) advocated with the fire department and CalPERS on behalf of a fire department employee, Nancy C.

SB 54 is a new California law that, among other things, requires the state government to grant all the rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples who marry in other states or countries any time after November 5, 2008.  It went into effect on January 1, 2010.  NCLR helped draft the law, which was sponsored by Equality California and authored by Senator Mark Leno.

Nancy C., who works as an emergency dispatcher, is in a binational relationship with a Canadian citizen.  She and her wife married in Ontario in October 2009.  After Nancy learned about the passage of SB 54, she asked her employer to add her wife as a beneficiary on her health and retirement plans.  The H.R. department initially told her that they could not do so, after CalPERS staff incorrectly advised them that only same-sex couples who registered as domestic partners were eligible for benefits.  NCLR attorneys advocated with the fire department, Alameda County, and CalPERS on Nancy’s behalf, educating them about their responsibilities under SB 54.  CalPERS then modified their guidance to comply with SB 54, and the Alameda County Fire Department was able to add Nancy’s wife as a beneficiary on all of her employee benefit plans.

“We are pleased that the Alameda County Fire Department and CalPERS are complying with SB 54, and providing benefits to LGBT employees and their spouses just like they do for all other married couples,” said Ilona Turner, a staff attorney with NCLR.  “We trust that other public agencies in California will follow suit and modify their benefit policies, if they haven’t already done so.”

Nancy C. and her wife

Nancy added, “I’m so grateful and relieved to finally have these benefits for my family.  It hurts to be treated unequally, but I hope my experience can help educate other same-sex couples and employers about the existence of this important new law.”

A fact sheet about the new law, entitled “SB 54 and Same-Sex Couples Who Marry Outside California,” is available on NCLR’s website at http://www.nclrights.org/SB54FAQ.

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