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Benefits for Gay Partners More Common

July 8, 2005
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State legislatures passed more than a dozen anti-gay laws last year, but U.S. businesses continued to expand policies that create workplace equity for gay and lesbian employees, according to a new report.

More employers are extending the same benefits to workers in same-sex relationships that they provide to married heterosexual employees, according to a report by the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group.

The improvements in the work environment for gay Americans stand in contrast to losses at ballot boxes. At the end of 2004, 13 states had outlawed marriage between same-sex couples. At the same time, 8,250 employers offered domestic-partner benefits, a 13 percent increase from 2003.

“Corporate America is responding to a competitive marketplace that is quite different than what is going on at the ballot box,” says Daryl Herrschaft, workplace project director for the Human Rights Campaign. “Corporations have been leaders because they recognize the business rationale for why these are good policies.”

Employers provide domestic-partner benefits to attract and retain employees, enhance diversity initiatives and keep up with competitors, says Andrew Sherman, senior vice president of the Segal Co., a benefits consulting firm. Heterosexual workers also use the presence or absence of domestic-partner benefits as a barometer for diversity, Sherman says.

More companies have extended health insurance to same-sex partners, seeing the importance of the benefits to gay employees and that additional the cost tends to be negligible. Domestic-partner health benefits compose 1 percent of a company’s overall health care costs, the Segal Co.’s Sherman says.

At the end of 2004, 216 companies on the Fortune 500 were providing domestic-partner benefits, according to the Human Rights Campaign, compared with two in 1990.

The report by the Human Rights Campaign echoes findings this year by Buck Consultants, which surveyed more than 576 U.S. employers. Twenty-nine percent of the companies studied by Buck offered medical insurance to same-sex partners, and 27 percent offered dental coverage.

Kimberly-Clark Corp., maker of such brands as Kleenex tissues and Huggies diapers, introduced domestic-partner health benefits last year.

“We saw it as a competitive disadvantage not to offer both same-sex and opposite-sex domestic-partner benefits,” says Edwin Garcia, vice president of corporate diversity and inclusion for Kimberly-Clark.

Sprint Corp., a Fortune 100 company with more than $27 billion in revenue last year, added domestic-partner benefits this year as a way to attract and retain employees, says spokeswoman Debra Peterson.

“It was a business decision,” she says.

Some businesses whose revenues depend on the mass market may be slower to offer domestic-partner benefits, fearing boycotts from conservative groups, says Freada Kapor Klein, a workplace-bias researcher and consultant.

But several high-profile boycotts have fizzled. The American Family Association, a conservative Christian group, recently ended an unsuccessful nine-year boycott of the Walt Disney Co. and suspended until December 1 its boycott of Ford Motor Co. Both companies had been targeted after offering domestic-partner benefits.   

—Todd Henneman

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