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More companies green-light domestic-partner benefits

More companies green-light domestic-partner benefits

Private employers are instituting domestic-partner health insurance benefits for gay employees at the rate of three new companies a day, according to a study by the educational arm of the gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. The analysis by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation found that more than 1,000 private employers and colleges and universities added domestic-partner benefits in 2003, 18% more than the year before. Some 40% of the Fortune 500 companies now offer domestic-partner benefits, including nearly 70% of the 50 top businesses. Employers in all states should soon expect to see an effect from the Massachusetts high court decision legalizing marriage for same-sex couples, according to the report, which is being released Thursday. Same-sex marriage becomes legal in Massachusetts on May 17. Once marriage licenses are available to same-sex couples in that state, employers elsewhere may face more pressure from workers to match the benefits available in Massachusetts, the report said. The report says providing such benefits enhances morale, productivity, recruiting, and competitiveness. One of the study's authors, Kim Mills, said the 18% rise is an indication that employers are deciding that such benefits are good for business. The study focused on health insurance at work because that is the most sensitive to company policy and state law. Pension arrangements such as 401(k) plans are governed by federal law. The report said 7,149 private employers and colleges and universities provided health coverage to employees' domestic partners in 2003, though that was less than 1% of the total number of such employers. "Companies across America continue to recognize that a key to success is treating employees equally," said Cheryl Jacques, HRC president. The federal government does not confer spousal benefits governed by federal law to same-sex couples. That means such couples do not qualify for Social Security survivor benefits or income tax breaks available to married couples. Massachusetts will treat same-sex spouses equally under state tax laws, allowing employers to offer health and other benefits on a pretax basis. The study also found that in 2003, 11 Fortune 500 companies modified their nondiscrimination policies to include gender identity or gender expression or both, bringing the total to 26. The report says a "significant proportion of corporate America is already well positioned to deal with changes in the law that will result from the advent of legal marriage for same-sex couples."

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