Same-Sex Marriage & Insurance

It seems that barely a week goes by without the issue of same-sex marriage being in the news. According to Freedomtomarry.com, same-sex couples are legally able to marry in the District of Columbia and 12 states - Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington.

Freedom to Marry

In 2012, the legislature in New Jersey passed a freedom to marry bill, and work is now underway to override the governor's veto. Meantime, New Mexico explicitly honors out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples, while six other states now offer broad protections short of marriage. Colorado, Hawaii and Illinois allow civil union. California, Oregon and Nevada offer broad domestic partnership. Wisconsin has a more limited domestic partnership. Several other states are in the legislative process to change their rules regarding the definition of marriage.

Wednesday | June 26, 2013 - The Supreme Court strikes down the 1996 law blocking federal recognition of gay marriage citing the Fifth Amendment’s protection of equal liberty. Furthermore the same court allowed gay marriage to resume in California by avoiding a decision for a separate case. The Defense of Marriage Act had denied federal benefits to legally married gay couples, which included Social Security benefits, family leave, and immigration.

With nearly a quarter of the states now recognizing same sex relationships as legally binding at the an equivalent to traditional marriage or close to it, a growing number of employers are also taking action for equality. In 2012, more than half of employers with 10 or more workers offered same-sex health insurance benefits, according to human resources consultant Mercer.

Insurance Company Changes

Many insurance companies are also now offering same-sex couples the same discounts offered to traditionally married couples. Esurance, an Allstate company, offers a 10 percent discount on the policies sold to any married couple, regardless of the gender of those in the relationship. The company also recognizes opposite-sex civil unions.

There will certainly be more legal wrangling going on at the federal level regarding benefits that go beyond insurance even after the Supreme Court's recent decision to strike down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which had originally defined marriage, for federal purposes, as between one man and one woman. The recent decision will pave the way for the estimated 120,000 gay and lesbian couples legally married in 12 states and the District of Columbia to be entitled to such benefits as being able to file joint tax returns, take advantage of loan programs for veterans, and be the recipient of survivor, pension, bankruptcy, or family medical leave benefits on a federal level. The details for insurance for these couples is not too far behind now.

Eligibility and the States

According to the The Human Rights Campaign, "Employers with fully-insured, state-regulated plans based in states that recognize marriage equality will generally be required to provide benefits to same-sex spouses if they already provide benefits to different-sex spouses." Additionally it goes on to say that companies with insurance plans across several states, specifically ERISA-regulated plans, might not have the same requirements to provide same-sex benefits.

This may seem well and good however the rift that will certainly come to the forefront in the coming months will be distinguishing same-sex couples married in a state that has approved same-sex marriage, but that are or will be living and working in a state that does not.

Recently the Office of Personnel Management sent a memo to federal agencies announcing that same-sex couples, in addition to their children are now eligible for health and life insurance. The note also indicates that federal employees have 60 days -- until August 26 -- to decide whether to make immediate changes in their benefits.

This is an issue insurance companies across the country have kept a close eye on. Because this decision could affect all Americans, be sure to monitor insurance and other company websites, where updates will be posted as soon as changes are made.

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