Third Of US Companies Ready To Give Same-Sex Benefits

Fri. June 25, 2004 12:00 AM by

New York City - A third of the business in the country say they are prepared to provide health benefits to the same-sex partners of gay and lesbian employees. But, when it comes to pension plans they are less willing to recognize same-sex couples.

Aon, an international human resources and consulting firm, polled large and small firms, asking for their response "if an employee requested that a health benefit plan recognize a same-gender spouse." The survey was conceived following the start of legalized same-sex marriages in Massachusetts.

Aon received replies from 216 companies that anonymously completed the survey during the past two weeks. Thirty percent of responding companies had 500 or fewer employees, and 14 percent were from companies with more than 10,000 employees.

The biggest issue may be the question surrounding the word "spouse", Aon said in a statement Thursday.

"This is where HR leaders seem to be struggling the most. Among the survey respondents, 51 percent have not reviewed their benefit plans "to determine whether the term 'spouse' could include a same-gender spouse."

When asked the same question of qualified retirement plans, only 15 percent of companies said they would honor the same request.

"When considering the impact of the same-gender marriage decision in Massachusetts, the largest factor that seems to drive behavior for employers is how these plans are treated by the Internal Revenue Code," notes Paul Sullivan, an assistant vice president with Aon Consulting's Research & Technical Services (RTS) group in Newburyport, Mass.

"Federally qualified retirement plans apparently do not want to run the risk of losing their 'qualified' status, and this is a distinct possibility if these plans recognize same-gender spouses in violation of the federal Defense of Marriage Act," Sullivan said.

He also said that there will be more pressure on employers to examine their plans and look at the issue, or provide the benefits in the future. "It is not an issue that is going to go away."

Senate Republicans have scheduled debate to begin July 12 on a proposed amendment to the US Constitution to ban gay marriage.

©® 2004

This article originally appeared on Republished with permission.