In 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges was victorious in bringing nationwide marriage equality to the United States. While the LGBTQ community and its allies celebrated the victory after a civil rights battle that lasted decades, many businesses then assumed that the need for domestic partner benefits had been eliminated, and, thus, removed these protections from their own employee benefit packages and financial ledgers.
However, for many reasons, it is critical that businesses continue to provide domestic partner benefits. Here’s why:
1. Same-sex marriage is legal, but it still isn’t safe for all.
While same-sex marriage is now the law of the land, steep barriers to accessing it and the associated benefits remain for many. The LGBTQ community continues to face the reverberating effects of a historical lack of access to marriage equality in addition to high risks of discrimination. You can still legally be fired from a job (or denied employment) in 28 states for being LGB+, and in 30 states for being Transgender.
There are no federal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, education, housing, public places, and a variety of other services. Through a patchwork of varying state and local laws and regulations, while a same-sex couple can marry, they may be giving up safety in any (or all) of these other realms. To put a finer point on it, the very decision to enter into a legal same-sex marriage may actually expose people to other injustices, prejudices, and discriminatory actions.
Though your company may provide these workplace protections to your LGBTQ employees, their partner may not have these same protections in their place of work. Further, the risks of experiencing discrimination are far greater for those living in states that lack comprehensive anti-discrimination policies and have policies in place that explicitly allow for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
For example, House Bill 1523 in Mississippi grants specific protections to religious organizations and individuals who refuse to provide certain goods and services to LGBTQ individuals (such as goods or services related to same-sex marriage, mental healthcare, and trans-healthcare) on the basis of religious belief.
Andy and Marco: Demonstrating Concepts
Andy and Marco made the decision to marry earlier this year. Andy works for a multinational company that provides LGBTQ workplace protections for its employees universally, but does not provide domestic partner benefits. Because Andy and Marco live in Alabama, one of the 28 states where there are no LGBTQ employment protections, Marco, who works for the school district, is left vulnerable to discrimination. By the virtue of the legal marriage, documents attesting to the marriage are a matter of public record and can be searched by employers.
2. There are many different kinds of families—workplace policies should reflect this fact.
Research shines light on steady trends in changing family structures over the decades. In present day society, not all individuals get married or even possess the desire to do so. U.S. Census data demonstrates that over 80 percent of households do not fit the traditional nuclear family model of a married couple with children—a rate that has grown significantly since 1950.
Additionally, the rate of individuals living and raising a child with an unmarried partner has also grown increasingly common. As the Center for American Progress stated in their 2016 report, “As our families evolve, so too must our workplace laws and policies.”
Despite the nationwide legalization of marriage equality, LGBTQ individuals still face a host of challenges, including limited definitions of family in local, state, and federal policy. The incomplete policies in both the public and private spheres, combined with attitudes that continue to stigmatize the LGBTQ community, leave many individuals to form family structures unlike the traditional nuclear structure. LGBTQ individuals are far more likely to develop significant relationships with “chosen families,” and rely on them for critical social support.
Moreover, a significant number of different-sex couples continue to decide against marriage for a number of different reasons. While the threat of being fired is not the same for different-sex couples as it for same-sex couples, domestic partner benefits extend vital protections to them, as well.
3. The Cost of Inclusivity is Low, the Benefits are High
Domestic partner benefits provide important protections to workers at minimal costs. Existing research demonstrates that the cost to providing domestic partner benefits is minimal. In fact, 64% of employers who provided these benefits experienced a financial impact of less than one percent. Hewitt Associates established that domestic partner coverage is no more expensive than coverage for spouses or other dependents.
Existing research continues to demonstrate the benefits of inclusivity. Having the ability to be out at work and welcomed by your colleagues is good for employee morale and the bottom line. Furthermore, LGBTQ-supportive policies and workplace climates are linked to less discrimination against LGBTQ employees and more openness about LGBTQ identity. Less discrimination and more openness, in turn, are also linked to greater job commitment, improved workplace relationships, increased job satisfaction, improved health outcomes, and increased productivity among LGBTQ employees.
To continue to build the case that inclusivity is important, see Out & Equal’s 2017 Workplace Equality Fact Sheet.
In order to remain truly inclusive and aware of the needs and different experiences of your LGBTQ employees, Out & Equal advises that your company continue to provide domestic partner benefits.