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Domestic Partnership and Significant Others After The Supreme Court Decision

In a monumental decision, the Supreme Court has decided that couples can now be legally married in the U.S.A regardless of what their genders are.   Many companies, for business or other reasons, expanded rights of employees’ partners to be eligible for medical and other benefits by including all relationships which were committed relationships, even though marriage, for legal or other reasons, was not entered to. With legal barriers removed, non-married couples whose living arrangements are a committed relationship with a domestic partner or significant other can be married, but may choose not to.

The question is: Will employers rethink providing benefits to any sort of partner where marriage is not part of the relationship?

The court decision removes discrimination as a factor in any analysis. Since any couple can be married, requiring a relationship of marriage to be determinative of coverage eligibility for a partner of an employee does not differentiate by any protected characteristic. Therefore, the considerations of a company have to focus on other factors. The most likely problem a company must resolve is to balance the cost, and any concerns about misrepresentation of including coverage for non-married partners, with the possible loss of current or future talent seeking coverage for their partners. Employers who provided non-married partners (regardless of their sexual orientation) coverage, must decide if they want to discontinue that coverage at some future date, providing anyone currently covered but, unmarried with a date by which proof of marriage will be a requirement for continued coverage.

Certainly, we can expect non-married couples, unwilling to marry for any reason, including political, moral, religious or practical reasons, to proclaim themselves as victims of bias if marriage– rather than some other sort of commitment – is the only acceptable relationship for obtaining partner benefits. Employers may want to review other policies (e.g. bereavement) that reference partners who are not spouses to determine whether or not adjustments are appropriate.

This article is intended for general information only and should not be construed as legal advice.


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