Fair Share?

Extending Benefits to Domestic Partners
By NEIL MILLER  |  November 19, 2009

Boston City Councilor David Scondras

This article was originally published in the October 16, 1984 issue of the Boston Phoenix. 
On September 10, Boston City Councilor David Scondras wrote a letter to the city’s group-health-insurance director.  “We have a non-discrimination policy in this city which includes people who are gay and lesbian,” wrote the city’s first openly gay city councilor.  “Given this reality, I would like my partner and legal companion, Robert Krebs, to be given coverage as he is in my immediate family and my spouse.”  Three weeks later, the official in question gave his reply.  Blue Cross-Blue Shield, he wrote, “stipulates that in order to be eligible for family coverage” an employee must be married.

 In the days between Scondras’s original letter and the city’s response, a political storm of sorts broke out.  Although the councilor describes his letter as “a private inquiry to explore reaction,” the contents were leaked to the Boston Herald and picked up by the rest of the news media.  At that point, Scondras says he “hit the roof.”  So did Boston City Council President Joseph Tierney.  In June, Tierney had voted for the city’s human-rights ordinance (which covers discrimination based on sexual preference), but he had no idea the legislation might apply to this issue.  He immediately proposed amending the ordinance to “prohibit unmarried couples of the same or opposite sex from receiving family-plan medical insurance coverage.”

This was the first time extending insurance coverage to unmarried heterosexual and gay couples had become a subject of debate in Boston.  But the issue itself is nothing new.  In November of 1982, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted eight to three to mandate that “domestic partners” of city employees be treated the same as spouses of married workers regarding bereavement leave and health insurance.  (The proposal was subsequently vetoed by Mayor Dianne Feinstein.)  This summer, the Berkley, California, Unified School District enacted a similar proposal to cover the 1900 employees in its system; the Berkley City Council followed suit, approving domestic partner coverage “in principle,” but setting a 1986 target date for implementation.  The Village Voice, a New York City weekly, has offered domestic partners of heterosexual and gay employees the same benefits of married employees since 1982.  Boston’s South End Press, the leftist publishing collective, and Gay Community News, a weekly newspaper, have similar policies.  And some local unions are beginning to make the issue a subject of collective-bargaining demands. 

The 1980 census lists some 1,763,980 unmarried cohabiting heterosexual couples in the US.  Because the Census Bureau does not ask questions about sexual preference, no one knows how many gay couples live together, but the numbers are probably as large, if not larger.  As these alternative domestic arrangements have become more common, more accepted—and often long-term—such couples have begun to question the fairness of allocating benefits based on the traditional unit of husband and wife.

Gay activists claim it is an issue of discrimination—no state, after all, permits homosexual marriage.  And this was the rationale motivating Scondras when he suggested to the city’s insurance director that the Human Rights Ordinance gave him the same benefit rights as a married person.  Scondras notes that the city of Boston pays $1151 towards health insurance for unmarried employees, but $2759 for those under the family plan.  “Why should the person who works next to me, doing the same job and getting the same salary, receive $1600 more in benefits than I do?” he asks.

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  Topics: Flashbacks , Gay marriage, Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Census Bureau,  More more >
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