Fair Share?

By NEIL MILLER  |  November 19, 2009

Even when insurance companies express a willingness to go along with such coverage, the idea strikes fear in the hearts of financially pressed city governments.  Oddly enough, this wasn’t an issue in San Francisco.  In that city, municipal employees, not the city government, pay the extra premium to add a spouse to their coverage, and there was a general fear among city workers that if expanded coverage ended up costing more money, the increase would be passed along and premiums would go up.  But in Berkeley, where the city contributes to both employee and spouse coverage, legislation approved by the city council might add as much as $40,000 to the city budget to cover partners of gay couples alone, according to activist Brougham.  No one has estimated how many unmarried heterosexuals might apply.  In actuality, however, with both members of such couples often working and already receiving individual benefits, the numbers of those applying might not be as high as the domestic-partner figures suggest.  On the other hand, there are fears such benefits could eventually be extended to city pensions as well, creating considerably higher costs for municipalities.

At the Village Voice, domestic-partner coverage has been in effect since the 1982 union contract, and it’s won favorable notices from both management and employees.  “It has not cost us a lot of money and has created no problems whatsoever,” says William Dwyer, the Voice’s vice-president in charge of finances.  Close to 20 of the paper’s 150 employees have taken advantage of the spouse-equivalent coverage, a mix of 50 percent gay and 50 percent straight.  When the idea was first proposed, says Dwyer, “Everyone here looked at it and said, ‘Oh God, that’s impossible.’ Then we started talking about it and thinking about it and said, ‘Why is that impossible?’ We kept coming up with fewer reasons for not doing it.”  (Because the Voice’s union is self-insured and provides the coverage, problems with the insurance companies were avoided.)

Senior Voice editor Richard Goldstein, who is gay but has not taken advantage of the benefit, says it has brought about a good deal of good will toward management.  “It makes me feel as if the paper cares for me as I am,” he says.  Goldstein argues that the benefit is “humane” and “progressive” but also a “conservative” one because it encourages permanent domestic arrangements.  “It is an added inducement for couples to stay together,” he notes.  And Goldstein dismisses the possibility of abuse.  “This is a corporation that is small enough so people know when someone is lying,” he says.

At Boston’s Gay Community News, partners of staff members have been covered through Workers Trust for a year now.  “There is so little institutional or social support for gay relationships,” says managing editor Gordon Gottlieb.  “We recognize a need for that to change.”  One of the major reasons GCN chose Workers Trust was that it offered this kind of coverage.  “If GCN is not going to take the lead in this, who is?” asks Gottlieb.

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