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Employers Are Dropping Domestic Partner Health Care Benefits

Increasingly, same-sex couples are required to marry to receive health care benefits

A woman and her daughter are preparing food in a kitchen.

​A growing number of employers are requiring same-sex couples to be married before an employee's partner can receive health care benefits, recent survey findings show.

"Domestic partner benefits can be complex to manage, and by offering consistent coverage for opposite-sex and same-sex couples, employers are able to ease some of the administrative burden," said Julie Stich, associate vice president of content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP), an association of benefit plan sponsors based in Brookfield, Wis.

[SHRM members-only Q&A: What rights do registered domestic partners have in California and what impact do they have on the employment relationship?] 

IFEBP recently compared findings from its employee benefits surveys taken since June 2015, when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country.

Employers report that from 2014 to 2016:

  • The percentage of employers that provide benefits to same-sex partners in legally recognized civil unions fell from 51 percent to 31 percent. Most states that previously registered civil unions stopped doing so after the court's ruling on same-sex marriage, although not all couples with civil unions have married.

  • The percentage of employers that provide benefits to same-sex domestic partners fell from 59 percent to 48 percent. Existence of domestic partnerships could be established by employees attesting that they share a common domestic life with their partner, although some states and localities provided domestic partnerships registries.

Employers are staying true to their earlier intentions. Immediately after the Supreme Court ruling, IFEBP found that 3 in 10 employers reported they were likely to discontinue providing benefits to same-sex domestic partners.

Most companies are offering parity in workplace benefits for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees, said Todd Solomon, a partner with McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago. "Now that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, most companies do not differentiate between types of spouses."

Some Keep Partner Benefits

"I wouldn't expect all employers to drop domestic partner benefits," Stich said. "Competitive employers are always working to provide an inclusive benefits package, and offering domestic partner benefits can build a culture of inclusion and help the company attract the best talent."

Larger organizations are the most likely to maintain domestic partner benefits, IFEBP found. Three in four organizations (77 percent) with 10,000 or more employees continue to offer health care benefits to both same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners.

Related Articles:

Same-Sex Spousal Benefits Remain Undetermined in Lone Star State, SHRM Online Legal Issues, August 2017

Appellate Ruling Sharpens Scrutiny of Unequal Benefits for Same-Sex Spouses, SHRM Online Benefits, April 2017 

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