More than half a dozen states are expected to revisit bans on same-sex marriage in the coming year. And gay-rights advocates are urging employers nationwide to retain domestic-partner benefits even if marriage for gays and lesbians becomes legal in their state.
They warn that the mishmash of state and federal employment and marriage laws can cause unintended consequences for same-sex couples.
A handful of employers in states where same-sex marriage is now legal have quietly dropped domestic-partner benefits and instead offer the same benefits to the legal spouses of all employees. They cite the move as one that levels the playing field for all workers.
But without federal recognition of same-sex marriage or a federally guaranteed workplace-protection law, companies should keep offering domestic-partner benefits, says Deena Fidas, deputy director of the Workplace Project at the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights group for lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people.
"It's not as straightforward as one might think," Fidas says. Opposite-sex and same-sex marriage are still not an "apples-to-apples comparison," she says.
Fidas cited an example of a gay couple living in New York, where same-sex marriage is legal, who marry and then later move to Florida. Florida is one of 29 states where employees can be fired because of their sexual orientation. A same-sex marriage certificate is documentation of a relationship that could be grounds for termination, she says.
"Just because an employer is operating in a marriage state, an employee might not live in a marriage state," Fidas says.
Same-sex marriage became legal in New York in July 2011. At the time, some employers in the Empire State said they planned to drop domestic-partner benefits. Raytheon Co., a defense contractor based in Waltham, Massachusetts, has stopped offering domestic-partner benefits to employees in New York and Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal.
Kristyn Lao, a spokeswoman for Raytheon, says in an email that the company "has consistently practiced an equitable approach to benefits eligibility for heterosexual and for same-sex-partner employees. …