Friday, July 9, 2004

Gay Marriage: Change Begins at Work (Conclusion)

Back in March, I wrote (in “Gay Marriage: Change Begins at Work”) about our company’s gay and lesbian employee group’s effort to get our Domestic Partner Benefits requirements changed, updating them to account for today’s domestic partner registrations, civil unions, and legal same-sex civil marriages.

This had been the text from our benefits book:
Domestic Partner Coverage

Adobe extends coverage under Personal Selections (PS) to qualified domestic partners, same and opposite sex, and their eligible dependent child(ren).  Domestic partner coverage applies to the coverages—medical, dental, vision, dependent life insurance and long-term care—in which spouses and children may be enrolled.

To be eligible for domestic partner coverage:
  • You and your partner must be at least 18 years of age.
  • You must be in a committed, exclusive relationship.
  • You must have lived together for at least 12 months.
  • You must be jointly responsible for living expenses.
  • Your domestic partner’s child(ren) must satisfy the same criteria applied to an employee’s child(ren).  (See “Who Is Eligible” earlier in this section.)
Roommates and relatives are not considered domestic partners.  You must also wait 12 months before re-enrolling a different domestic partner.  If you are in a domestic partnership and your 12-month anniversary falls at a time outside of the Open Enrollment period, this will be treated as a qualified change in status, and you may apply for domestic partner coverage at that time.
I’m pleased to say that, after diligent research, Human Resources has agreed to the bulk of our requests on the subject.  (Aside: There was an article in The Advocate in March (online archives only go back to 2008 currently, so no link to the article) indicating that some companies were making changes like this, but without naming any of them.  Well, here’s one to be named!)

Here is the text (effective July 1, 2004 ) to be incorporated into the next printing:
Domestic Partner Coverage

Throughout the year, Adobe periodically reviews our benefit plans and policies.  Due to our review and recent legislation, the following changes have been made to our Domestic Partner policy:
  • Official government registration of an employee’s domestic partnership can be submitted in lieu of Adobe’s Domestic Partner Declaration (Affidavit).
Domestic partner eligibility requirements

An employee and their domestic partner must be:
  • At least 18 years of age
  • In a committed, exclusive relationship AND
  • Jointly responsible for living expenses.
  • A domestic partner’s child(ren) must satisfy the same eligibility criteria applied to the child(ren) of an employee.
A domestic partner relationship must:
  • Exist for at least 12 consecutive months AND during this time, maintain the same principal residence with the intent to do so indefinitely.
  • The domestic partner relationship must be recorded, certified, and/or registered by a national, state, city or regional U.S. government authority.
That is, whether or not they have lived together for 12 months, the presence of a government-recognized and registered relationship is sufficient for Adobe Systems to accept that it is a genuine domestic partnership.

There are two things which they did not approve:
  • Payment for the benefits of the domestic partner come out of post-tax dollars, while that for married opposite-sex spouses come from pre-tax dollars and may cost less.  This is not something Adobe Systems has control over; it is dictated by the Federal Government and insurers.
  • This policy change only affects United States employees whose partnerships are registered in the United States.  Adobe has other policies for its employees in Canada, the Netherlands, and other countries where same-sex marriage laws are different.  In particular, though, U.S. employees who marry in Canada but do not otherwise have a registered partnership in the United States are not covered.
There is also one impact that I note for which we didn’t request a change:
  • Same-sex partners must share living expenses, which implies the earlier requirement to live together as well.  It is unclear how this would affect a couple for which one partner had to live in another city for an extended period due to his or her job (or military service) and was unable to contribute to the living expenses, for example.  For opposite-sex married couples, there is no requirement for shared living expenses or cohabitation; technically, the two never have to see one another again after marrying.
I suppose someone may request an examination of that requirement at some point, although I am personally not too worried about it.  I believe that Adobe would do the right thing by a couple separated for job or related reasons.  There are few couples (same or opposite sex) who would fall into the last class above, and I would be more apt to fight to prevent opposite-sex couples from receiving benefits in such a case than to secure them for same-sex couples.

In all, a very favorable resolution to this issue that I spearheaded.

What’s that?  Will it actually affect any employees?  You bet it will.  One of the female employees has already spoken up to say that it will.  But even more, my partner Rusty currently has no health insurance.  We are still waiting for his divorce from his ex-wife to finalize (it’s been in process since before we met!), but once that happens, we will register our partnership with King County and be able to have him (and his daughter Sarah, who also lives with us during the school year) covered, hopefully by Labor Day, several months before the old policy would have enabled such coverage to start.

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