More than half of employers offer same-sex partner benefits

Almost one-quarter plan to extend benefits to married gay couples, even in states where they aren’t recognized.

MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINELAugust 28, 2013 

A survey released Tuesday by the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans in Brookfield, Wis., received responses from 915 people who work in human resources and benefits, and was done after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.

The survey also found:

• More than 4 in 10 employers — 44.5 percent — offer benefits to unmarried opposite-sex domestic partners.

• An additional 1 in 10 employers — 10.5 percent — are now considering adding benefits for opposite-sex couples while 1 in 20 — 5.1 percent — are considering dropping benefits for them.

• Two-thirds of employers said that they needed further clarification and guidance on the ruling before making major changes to employee benefits and policies.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced Tuesday that it will extend health care benefits to its U.S. workers’ domestic partners, including those of the same sex, starting Jan. 1.

The nation’s largest private employer, which has been a target of attacks by labor groups for what they criticize are skimpy wages and benefits, said that the changes were made so it could have one uniform policy for all 50 states at a time when some states have their own definitions of what constitutes domestic partnerships and civil unions.

Employees can enroll their domestic partners from Oct. 12 through Nov. 1.

Wal-Mart defines domestic partners as spouses of the same-sex or opposite gender, and unmarried partners who are not legally separated who have lived together for at least 12 months, are not married to anyone else, are in an exclusive relationship and plan to continue sharing a household indefinitely, says Randy Hargrove, a Wal-Mart spokesman.

The move follows the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June to overturn a 1996 law that denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. The decision makes the federal government recognize same-sex marriages in states where they are legal.

The Associated Press contributed.

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