Health benefits for same-sex couples now common |

Health benefits for same-sex couples now common

Makiko Kitamura

WASHINGTON – For the first time since employers began providing health insurance coverage to employees’ same-sex partners, a majority of America’s largest businesses now offer domestic partner benefits, according to a gay and lesbian advocacy group.Fifty-one percent – 253 – of Fortune 500 companies provide benefits to employees’ same-sex domestic partners, according to an annual report released Thursday by the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based advocacy group. “Why are businesses doing this? Why have they decided to be inclusive, fair and equal in their policies? It’s because it makes good business sense,” Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said.Eastman Kodak Co., which employs about 1,400 Coloradans, has offered domestic partner benefits since 1997.”We felt that it was important to extend to our employees who are in gay or lesbian relationships the same benefits that people in heterosexual relationships are offered,” said Kodak spokesman David Kassnoff. The Human Rights Campaign report said 86 percent of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policy.Only 16 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination in private sector employment based on sexual orientation. Among those 17, California, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Washington and the District of Columbia also ban discrimination against transgender employees.Since 2002, Colorado has banned discrimination of gay, lesbian and bisexual workers in the public sector, but does not extend the protection to private-sector employees.For two years in a row, Gov. Bill Owens has vetoed employment nondiscrimination acts that passed the state legislature. Both measures were written to protect private-sector employees.This November, Colorado voters will decide a domestic partnership referendum on the ballot. Groups are gathering signatures for three more related to same-sex unions. Coloradans for Fairness and Equality, backed primarily by software millionaire and gay activist Tim Gill, is leading the campaign for a referendum that allows same-sex couples to enter domestic partnerships recognized by the state and receive many of the same benefits as married couples.While federal rights such as filing a joint tax return or receiving a spouse’s Social Security benefits cannot be granted, the measure would give same-sex couples rights to hospital visitation, medical decision-making, shared health insurance coverage and inheritance.Vail, Colorado

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