With marriage now legal, Md. to end partner benefits for gay state workers

With marriage now legal, Md. to end partner benefits for gay state workers

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Governor of Maryland has notified state employees that shared benefits for same-sex domestic partners will end on December 31, and if they want to continue their health insurance coverage, they’ll have to get married.

Gov. Martin O’Malley said the policy change is the result of the new Maryland law allowing same-sex marriage, which took effect January 1 of this year.

An administration source told LGBTQ Nation Friday that offering health coverage to unmarried same-sex partners no longer makes sense in light of the new marriage law, particularly since unmarried heterosexual partners don’t have the same benefits.

The change would affect several hundred state employees.

Carrie Evans, Executive Director of Equality Maryland, said she sees O’Malley’s action as premature.

“We would like to see domestic partnership benefits on the books for same-sex couples until there’s a level playing field with regard to marriage,” she said.

Marilee Lindemann, who runs the LGBT Studies program at the University of Maryland, agreed, and said the decision “was made prematurely given the uneven landscape for gay and lesbian couples across the country. It’s something that forces people into marriage.”

Raquel Guillory, a spokesperson for the governor, noted that O’Malley had extended domestic partnership status to state employee same-sex couples, but not unmarried straight couples, because same-sex couples were not permitted to marry.

Now that same-sex couples can marry, Guillory said, that reason no longer exists. The administration introduced domestic partner benefits in 2009. She added that state employees in same-sex relationships who don’t now have the domestic partner coverage will not be allowed to apply for it.

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Guillory said the state could be at risk for legal challenges “if Maryland continued to offer same-sex couples two paths to benefits, and opposite-sex couples only one.”

Maggie McIntosh, an openly gay member of the General Assembly, said the administration is doing the right thing.

“In Maryland, we have a level playing field,” she said. “Because we fought for equality, we got equality, we should now be embracing equality.”

McIntosh, who married earlier this year under the new law, said she doubts many same-sex couples in domestic partnerships will rush to the courthouse just because of the policy change.

“Marrying somebody for their health insurance is a little bit of the wrong motivation,” she said.

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