WASHINGTON — Maryland state employees in a same-sex domestic partnership will soon be unable to include their partner or their partner’s children on their health insurance, now that the state has legalized same-sex marriage.
No new domestic partners will be able to enroll in state health benefits beginning in July, and in mid-2013, no domestic partners will be covered. About 280 active and retired state workers are covering a same-sex domestic partner, said Robin Sabatini, Maryland Department of Budget and Management chief of staff.
Maryland voters passed the Question 6 referendum in November, which legalized same-sex marriage in the state by upholding the Civil Marriage Protection Act. Same-sex couples could marry beginning Jan. 1, which sparked the change in health care coverage, Sabatini said.
“I think it will basically force people to get married in order to retain benefits, and that’s unfortunate,” said Marilee Lindemann, director of the LGBT studies program at the University of Maryland. “I think there’s an argument to be made that people ought to have access to benefits even if they don’t want to get married.”
However, Sabatini said, the state must now repeal same-sex domestic partner benefits — first granted in 2009 — so that same-sex couples are not eligible for health insurance through either marriage or a domestic partnership, while opposite-sex couples are only eligible through marriage.
Because not all same-sex couples wish to get married — and, under the Defense of Marriage Act, even legal same-sex marriages are not recognized by the federal government — eliminating coverage for domestic partners is detrimental, marriage equality advocates said.
Domestic partner benefits make health care coverage available to two additional groups of people: those who cannot legally get married in their state and those who do not wish to get married, Lindemann said. Soon, the latter group in Maryland will lose those benefits
“That’s the other argument, why do we tie these things to relationship status at all?” Lindemann said. “In other countries, one’s access to health care is not dependent on that, but that’s where we are in the United States.”
There are many legal reasons same-sex couples would not want to marry, according to Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, an LGBT rights organization. For example, same-sex married couples often cannot adopt a child internationally.
Under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex married couples lack federal benefits, including access to a spouse’s Social Security benefits and joint tax return filing. The Supreme Court recently heard a challenge to the law, brought by an 83-year-old New York woman who was denied a federal estate tax exemption after the death of her wife and partner of more than 40 years. A decision is pending.