In the Wake of Same Sex Marriage Approval: The Loss of Domestic Partnership Benefits?

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Professor of law and Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia, Katherine Franke, discussed what may happen to domestic partnerships - both straight and gay - now that gay marriage is legal in New York.

A Mixed Bag

A side effect of winning marriage equality in New York may mean domestic partners lose benefits they currently hold at work. The Wall Street Journal reported that at least two major companies, IBM and Raytheon, will drop health care and other benefits for unmarried domestic partners because same sex couples can now marry. Franke objects to this policy—she says people fought hard to pass domestic partnership laws for the purpose of recognizing families outside of marriage.

To have same sex marriage now be the way in which we cut off those rights for domestic partners seems to me to be a bad outcome, rather than seeing marriage as something among a menu of ways in which one can have their relationship legally recognized.

She says it's wonderful gay couples now have the ability to get married in New York, but they shouldn't be required to do so in order to get the benefits they already have. Furthermore, according to Franke, non-traditional heterosexual partnerships should be recognized in all workplaces.

One doesn't have to marry to be in a committed relationship. And the law in New York allows employees of the City of New York to get those benefits whether or not they're married.

The Gay Marriage Penalty

Franke said the bars against gay marriage and Don't Ask Don't Tell represent the two major examples of state sponsored homophobia in the U.S. Now she says gay rights advocates need to broaden their scope in order to bring true equality to couples. For example, no matter what happens on the state level, until federal marriage laws change, gay couples will continue to pay tax penalties.

If you put your domestic partner or what will soon be a gay or lesbian spouse on your health form at work, because we still have the Defense of Marriage Act on the Federal level, you don't gain the tax benefit of having that person on your health plan as your spouse, it gets counted as income that you have to pay taxes on.

Health care benefits shouldn't be confined to marriage

In fact, Franke's position on how health benefits should be provided through the workplace extends far beyond marriage or domestic partnerships.

Each person gets to pick a person that they would like to have on their benefits plan. It could be your spouse, it could be the domestic partner that you live with, it could be your brother who lives down the street or in another town.


In the U.S. we distribute health care through employment, but there's no reason why it has to be then portalled through the very narrow channel of marriage.

Read Franke's op-ed in The New York Times.