For the past few years, the
paper's marriage requirement for benefits was only applied to
heterosexual couples. Same-sex couples were given equal
benefits if they registered as domestic partners.
Now that same-sex marriage has
been legal in Massachusetts for about two years, the Globe
decided to limit benefits to married couples, regardless of
gender or sexual orientation.
Lawyers for the Globe apparently
advised the paper that it would be vulnerable to discrimination
lawsuits from heterosexual employees if benefits were doled out
differently to gay and straight employees. That is
But the paper had two choices:
drop the domestic partner benefits plan and require all couples
to be married in order to receive benefits, or open the domestic
partner benefits plan to all unmarried couples regardless of
their sexual orientation. The Globe chose the "marriage
only" path which rewards married couples and excludes unmarried
Although the Globe is not alone
in its decision to limit benefits to married couples -- a few
other employers in Massachusetts have also taken this approach
-- many employers are keeping domestic partner benefits despite
the legalization of same-sex marriage in that state.
Massachusetts employers offering such benefits to same and
opposite-sex unmarried couples include Bank of America, Blue
Cross and Blue Shield, Gillette Co., John Hancock, Mass.
Institute of Technology, and Harvard University.
Most employers who have
instituted domestic partner benefits have done so out of respect
for family diversity, recognizing that workers with unmarried
families are just as valuable and deserving of equal pay as
those with married families. Whether same-sex marriage is
legal has not been relevant in these workplaces.
The Globe's new "marriage
promotion" program is sure to upset the many gay and lesbian
organizations which signed a "Joint Statement in Favor of
Maintaining Domestic Partner Benefits" two years ago.
Signers include the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal Defense
and Education Fund, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National
Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the Parents, Families and
Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
The statement says, in part:
share a concern that some Massachusetts employers are
considering eliminating their domestic partner health benefits
plans now that same-sex couples may marry in that state. We urge
employers to maintain their domestic partner benefits policies
even after civil marriage is available to same-sex couples.
"Domestic partnership is not a substitute for marriage.
Likewise, marriage is not a substitute for domestic partnership.
The two options serve different purposes for different people in
different situations. We believe there are important reasons why
domestic partner benefits policies should be maintained after
same-sex couples have the right to marry."
also points out that:
partner benefits were originally intended as a way to provide
fair and equal treatment to the growing diversity of employees'
families, both married and unmarried, and to reduce marital
* More than
of employers who
offer domestic partner benefits make them available to both
same-sex and different-sex couples. These employers have no
reason to consider eliminating their policies, since they do not
rely on marriage as the sole way to define employees' families.
Benefits make up
a significant part of employee compensation. If two employees do
the same job equally well, they should not receive benefits or
be ineligible for benefits based on their marital status. There
is no logical reason why civil marriage should be the dividing
line between which employees' families are eligible for
benefits, and which employees' families are not.
Liberty Mutual's response to the
legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts stands in
stark contrast to the Globe's reaction.
A few months after the
Massachusetts Supreme Court handed down its landmark marriage
Liberty Mutual responded with a
dual approach to creating more inclusive workplace benefits.
It opened up "spousal" benefits to same-sex couples who decided
to marry. It also instituted a domestic partner benefits
plan for same and opposite-sex unmarried partners of employees.
Mutual got it right. Be inclusive, show respect for
diversity, and eliminate marital status discrimination in
The Globe, on
the other hand, decided to narrow benefits, probably as a
financial measure. Employee benefits surveys suggest that
the cost of benefits at the Globe may have risen by about two
percent if it had broadened the domestic partner program to
include heterosexual couples rather than dismantling the program
What a lousy
way to save a buck.
Unmarried America 2006
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
email@example.com. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and