IBM, Corning Requiring Gay Couples to Marry for Health Benefits

Same-sex couples, after fighting to be allowed to marry in New York and other states, are now struggling with what that might mean for their domestic-partner benefits.

Many companies already offer domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples. Now that same-sex couples can marry in six states and the District of Columbia, companies must decide if same-sex couples should marry to receive those benefits.

Some companies in New York, and elsewhere, have decided to no longer offer domestic partner benefits. Instead, gay couples would be required to get married in order to receive the benefits, according to The New York Times. Corning, I.B.M. and Raytheon have decided to change their policies. Employees at these companies who currently have domestic partner benefits for their same-sex partners will be required to marry if they want to continue receiving those benefits.

The change may seem like good news to those who want to have same-sex couples treated the same as married heterosexual couples, but some of the same groups that fought to get their states to recognize same-sex marriages are raising concerns about the policy shift.

“But from our perspective, to hinge something as important as insurance for your family to what is still a complicated legal matter for same-sex couples doesn’t seem to be a fair thing to do,” Ross D. Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, told The New York Times.

The issue has, in part, to do with differences in state and federal law. While some states recognize same-sex marriages, federal law does not. Under the Defense of Marriage Act (1996), federal laws that recognize state marriage licenses (for tax purposes or Social Security survivor benefits, for instance) will not recognize same-sex marriages that are legal under state law. So, a married homosexual worker would pay federal taxes on health benefits for their spouse, whereas a married heterosexual worker would not.

The legal complications for same-sex married couples do not stop with health benefits, though. They will have to fill out tax forms at least four times, according to Nicole Pearl, estate-planning partner at McDermott Will & Emery, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. A same-sex married couple will each file separate returns as individuals for the federal government, then they will create a “dummy” joint federal return which will be used to then file their state married-filing-jointly return.

Sometimes, heterosexual couples who each have an income and get married pay more in taxes because their combined income places them in a higher tax bracket. In these cases, gay couples who get married gain an advantage by having a marriage that is not recognized under federal law.

Camilla Taylor, marriage project director at Lambda Legal, told The New York Times that her group is also concerned that requiring same-sex couples to get married might impact their immigration status.

“There are some types of visas that are meant to be temporary, and if you get married to someone who is a citizen, it could flag your renewal application and reflect your more permanent decision to stay,” she said.

 How same-sex couples would be different from heterosexual couples in this respect was left unclear, however.

A spokeswoman for Corning told The New York Times that no concerns were raised by their gay employees and “they are delighted” with the change.

New York's gay marriage law will go into effect on July 24.