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Domestic partner benefits growing in popularity

published July 31, 2006

Michael Kinsman
( 6 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)
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A study by the Human Rights Campaign found that, for the first time, a majority of Fortune 500 companies now offer health insurance to their employees' domestic partners.

The HRC, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes gay, lesbian and transgender equality, said that 253 of the nation's largest public companies offer domestic partner benefits.

"This isn't a Democratic or a Republican issue," says HRC President Joe Solmonese. "It's an issue of basic fairness."

The reality of today's workplace is that people of every sexual orientation should have the right to do the same work, work collaboratively, or give orders without any fear that they will be subjected to any rules other than the ones that apply across the board.

But, until Levi Strauss began offering domestic partner benefits 14 years ago, none of the other large public companies was as forward-thinking.

Now, a majority do it, including two-thirds of the Fortune 500 companies based in California.

The HRC also reported that 430 of the Fortune 500 companies have policies banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, up from 294 companies five years ago.

Although 17 states prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, having an in-house anti-discrimination policy is invaluable, said Joyce Marieb, executive director of the Greater San Diego Business Association.

"There are vast differences when a company has a policy against discrimination," says Marieb, whose organization supports gay, lesbian and transgender issues and has about 800 members. "When you put your policy in writing, it helps to create a culture that accepts gays more easily.

"When you don't have a policy, it's more difficult to make sure you don't have discrimination occurring in some parts of the company."

While no one seems to know how common domestic partner benefits may be in smaller and private companies, Marieb says the HRC study is very telling.

"The tone set by the major corporations filters down to other companies," she says. "Like with any benefit, smaller companies will start to adopt these policies as they attempt to remain competitive with bigger companies in the recruitment of the best employees."

Clearly, the Fortune 500 companies that offer domestic partner benefits have recognized it is an advantage in recruitment.

Their policies suggest that they acknowledge the contributions that gay and lesbian employees can make, and they want to be able to attract the best workers available, regardless of sexual orientation.

© Copley News Service