D.C. Looks at Cost of 'Marriage' Benefits; Council Considers Recognizing Same-Sex Couples 'Wed' in Other Areas

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Byline: Marguerite Higgins, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Businesses should expect some changes in their benefits plans if the District recognizes same-sex "marriage" from other areas in the country, several analysts say.

But how much more it would cost to businesses to add domestic partners as "spouses" on health and life insurance coverage is still not known.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, last month introduced a resolution for the Council to work with Mayor Anthony A. Williams to recognize "marriage" from jurisdictions such as Massachusetts, which plans to start issuing "marriage" licenses to homosexual couples in May.

The D.C. Corporation Counsel Office is examining the legal implications for Mr. Williams. The city's legal arm is expected to release an opinion on the issue in the near future, said spokeswoman Tarifah Coaxum, who would not give a time frame.

Same-sex "marriage" would affect businesses, although the costs are unknown, said D.C. Insurance and Securities Regulation Department Commissioner Lawrence Mirel.

Employers would be required by law to offer partners in those unions the same type of spousal benefits offered to married heterosexual couples, Mr. Mirel said.

More of the cost of coverage would shift to the employer from the homosexual worker if homosexual partners received the same rights as married couples, he said.

While companies have varying benefits plans, a homosexual employee usually pays for most or all of the cost for covering his or her partner. The partner's coverage is subject to federal and D.C. income taxes.

In contrast, married workers often pay a smaller percentage of their spouse's insurance plan, which is not taxed.

For example, D.C. government employees pay 25 percent of their spouse's costs, while homosexual workers foot the entire bill for their partners.

But even with the changes, the extra costs to businesses could be minimal depending on how much insurance coverage companies choose to pay, said Kit Asbro, president of Financial Brokerage Services Inc. …