Cities give same-sex couples benefits
As more states legalize same-sex marriage and civil unions, a growing number of local governments are extending or considering extending benefits to employees in same-sex relationships. For cash-strapped governments, the cost of the additional employee benefits can be a point of contention, but it is just one of several factors city and county officials consider when deciding whether to offer benefits to same-sex couples.
Massachusetts, which allows gay marriage, also requires that government employees have health insurance. But, because the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages, same-sex married couples pay taxes on their benefits, unlike opposite-sex married couples. In June, Cambridge, Mass., officials decided to pay a subsidy to employees in same-sex marriages to cover the federal tax they have to pay on health and dental benefits they jointly receive from the city.
The decision is expected to cost the city $33,000 for the 22 city and school department employees who claim their same-sex spouses on their insurance plans. However, City Councilmember Marjorie Decker says paying the benefits would not negatively affect the city budget or the local economy, and is just “a form of the cost of labor.” “We want to make people in the city feel valued,” Decker says. “Doing this shows that we value [their] work.”
Several cities in Florida, Pennsylvania and elsewhere also have begun offering benefits to same-sex couples. Orlando, Fla., began offering domestic-partner benefits in 2008, but few Orlando employees have taken advantage of the benefit, and the financial impact on the city has been relatively minor, according to a January story in the Orlando Sentinel. In 2010, only seven Orlando employees had added their domestic partners to their medical insurance, at a cost of $17,291. “It’s not fair to say it’s too expensive when other employees have their partners covered,” Orlando Commissioner Patty Sheehan, who pushed for the benefit for several years, told the Sentinel. “It’s an important thing to do.”
The benefits, along with other open-door employment policies for members of the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered (LGBT) community, also could help cities and counties retain employees, says Karen Sumberg co-author of a new study from the New York-based Center for Work-Life Policy. The study found that almost half of LGBT workers remain closeted at work, and that 71 percent of those who are closeted said they were more likely to leave their company within the next three years. “[Employers who are open] can serve as a huge attraction and point of retention,” Sumberg said. “You then become an employer of choice of a highly desirable workforce.”