by Marchae Grair | The Advocate
by Kerry Eleveld | The Advocate
President Barack Obama issued a presidential memo Wednesday outlining “certain available benefits” that federal agencies will now be required to provide to same-sex partners of federal workers and their families. The guidance builds upon a memo Obama issued last June instructing federal agencies to review the benefits they administer in order to determine what could be offered pursuant to current law.
State and National Civil Rights Groups Laud Maryland For Providing State Employee Benefits To Married Same-Sex CouplesMay 19, 2010
Heartened that the State of Maryland has taken an important step forward for the rights of all families, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, Equality Maryland, the Maryland Black Family Alliance, Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights today lauded the state Department of Budget and Management for its decision to make the Employee and Retiree Health and Welfare Benefits Program inclusive of same-sex couples who have valid marriages that were performed in other states. Beginning July 1, the program will now cover individuals who already possess a valid marriage certificate from a jurisdiction that authorizes marriages of same-sex couples.
“We applaud the State of Maryland for providing basic protections to its married lesbian and gay employees, in compliance with Maryland law , allowing them to offer their spouses and children greater security, stability and peace of mind,” said David Rocah, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Maryland.
“This is fully consistent with longstanding Maryland legal principles and helps same-sex couples access important protections for their families,” said Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal.
“This is a common-sense step toward equal treatment of Maryland State employees and their families,” said Liz Seaton, a managing attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
“The Maryland Black Family Alliance believes it is the right step forward for the state to be inclusive of married same-sex couples in providing important family benefits,” said Elbridge James, Director of the Maryland Black Family Alliance, adding, “It’s the right thing to do.”
“We are thrilled that so many couples are benefiting from equal treatment under the law in a wide range of areas including health insurance,” said Morgan Meneses-Sheets, Executive Director of Equality Maryland. “Progress is being made, however, many of the 400+ state-level legal protections of marriage still remain out of reach to thousands of committed couples. Only civil marriage here at home and an end to discrimination by the federal government will provide full and equal protection under the law,” said Meneses-Sheets.
To qualify for coverage, the couples have to submit a copy of their marriage certificate along with a newly developed Spouse Tax Affidavit which, going forward, will apply to all spouses, not just same-sex spouses. Same-sex spouses with a valid marriage certificate will not be required to complete the separate Domestic Partner Affidavit nor will they be required to submit proof of common residence and financial interdependency.
An initial open enrollment period is provided through June 2 for same-sex couples who are already married. After that, same-sex partners who get legally married can add the spouse under the state’s usual qualified family status change process. Unfortunately, due to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex couples will have to pay taxes on the value of health benefits provided under the Program, unlike opposite-sex couples for whom such benefits are exempt from taxation.
The ACLU of Maryland, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Lambda Legal continue to monitor how state agencies comply with the law following a legal opinion released in February by Attorney General Doug Gansler that concludes that Maryland law requires recognition of valid out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples. Last year, Maryland extended benefits to domestic partners who complete a Domestic Partner affidavit. This new policy for married same-sex couples does not affect the availability of benefits for eligible domestic partners.
Maryland follows New York State, which honors marriages between same-sex couples even though such marriages are not performed in that jurisdiction. Five states Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire and the District of Columbia have marriage equality laws.
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) yesterday introduced the Equal Access to COBRA Act, which would allow many domestic partners the same access married spouses currently have to COBRA health coverage if their partner loses a job.
The law would apply to companies that already offer health coverage to domestic partners and their children. Currently, more than half of Fortune 500 companies cover domestic partners under their health plans.
Senator Boxer said, “This is a question of fairness: Every family deserves access to health insurance, especially in this tough economy. This bill ensures that domestic partners and their families will have equal access to health coverage after a job loss.”
Under federal law, employers must offer continuing health care coverage to departing employees and their beneficiaries for up to 36 months. Current federal laws related to COBRA coverage do not apply to domestic partners or same-sex spouses – even at companies that offer health coverage to domestic partners of employees.
This legislation would change federal law to allow equal access to COBRA coverage for all individuals who are covered by an employer’s health plan. It would apply to domestic partners as they are defined by an employer’s health insurance plan.