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GRAPHIC
  LOCAL LAWS OF THE LAND
Only in the federal civilian work force does the United States protect careerists from discrimination based on sexual orientation, under a 1998 executive order of President Bill Clinton. Private-sector American workers have no such federal protection.
Check out the states that have their own anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Taking more home: Study cites upturn in domestic-partner benefits

Sharing life, sharing careers

October 6, 2000
Web posted at: 1:23 p.m. EDT (1723 GMT)


In this story:

Non-nuclear numbers

Home, hearth and heterosexuals

'Appeasing the homosexual community'

Corporations and Congress

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



(CNN) -- "What we're seeing here is the court of public opinion," says Kim Mills of the Human Rights Campaign, "a reflection of changing attitudes."

According to a study newly released by Mills' gay-rights advocacy organization, there's been a 25-percent one-year increase in the number of employers offering domestic-partner health benefits in the United States.

And the study's findings indicate that of those employers, 65 percent offer benefits to both same- and opposite-sex partners.

"We're talking here about what we do in our careers and how we protect each other," says Al Gini, a business ethicist based in Oak Park, Illinois, near Chicago.

"Money. The bottom line is money. The corporations are going after the homosexual market" as consumers. "The homosexual market is known to be very loyal to those companies that offer these accommodations."
— Allen Wildmon, American Family Association

"I remember something said once by Pierre Trudeau," the former Canadian prime minister whose funeral service was held Tuesday in Montreal, says Gini. "When asked about his private relationships by a member of the press, Trudeau responded by saying that a true gentleman would never ask and a true gentleman would never tell. And that's what this is about -- how critical privacy is to all of us, and how we all take care of each other."

The drive to have health-insurance benefits extended to workers' partners traditionally has been spearheaded by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and other organizations in the homosexual community.

"But this is not just a 'gay-people benefit,' " says Mills, who is HRC's education director. "In most cases, this is good news for opposite-sex couples, as well. A lot of heterosexual couples today are saying no to marriage. Companies now are recognizing this" in how they support the careers of their employees and those of their life partners.

The higher on the Fortune 500 list a company is, the more likely it is to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. While 51 percent of Fortune 500 corporations have such policies, 82 percent of the top 50 on the list do.
— Human Rights Campaign, "State of the Workplace" study

"Twenty-five percent was quite a jump," Mills says. "I knew domestic partner benefits were on the increase, but not to this degree."

In one case, the study notes, a company rescinded its domestic partner benefits. Last December, the newly merged ExxonMobil Corporation announced that new employees could have spousal benefits only if they were in legally recognized marriages. "It's a question of how you fairly define a legitimate relationship," a company official said.

"Ironically," says Gini, an associate editor of the Business Ethics Quarterly, "it's the same-sex issue that's brought this to the forefront of family issues. Ninety percent of the work force is no longer representative of the nuclear family. We have to redefine what we mean by 'family.' "

graphic

Non-nuclear numbers

The HRC's study is called "The State of the Workplace for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Americans." And it finds that, as of August, a total 3,572 companies, colleges, universities and state and local governments were offering -- or had announced they'd offer -- health insurance coverage to the domestic partners of their employees. That's up from 2,856 employers in August 1999.

  COUNTING THE CORPORATES
Among the Fortune 500, the HRC study says, offers of domestic-partner benefits rose from 70 companies in August 1999 to 102 this past August, a 46-percent increase.
See which companies are newcomers to the list.

High-tech companies are in the lead in domestic-partner benefits, according to HRC figures, but some "old economy" sectors are on board, too. Among the highest-profile movers in this arena, automakers Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler on June 8 jointly announced with the United Auto Workers union that they'd add domestic-partner benefits.

Subaru of America had beaten the Big Three, announcing in May its plan to cover domestic partners. In the food-producing sector, Coca-Cola, General Mills and Pillsbury did the same. And a year ago this month, Boeing joined Honeywell as an aerospace contractor offering domestic-partner benefits.

The news parallels some basic tenets of the 20-year-old Human Rights Campaign's efforts. As the largest national lesbian and gay political organization, the HRC states as its mission the achievement of "basic equal rights" for gay citizens. The HRC lists "protecting Americans from job discrimination based on sexual orientation" as its top goal for the 106th Congress. Also on the list of goals: federal hate-crime legislation; AIDS policy and lesbian health issues; and discriminatory legislative efforts.

Since August 1999, two states -- Connecticut and Washington -- have added domestic-partner benefits for state workers. Twelve cities and counties have added or have announced they'll add the benefits for their employees.
— Human Rights Campaign, "State of the Workplace" study

And in line with the HRC's no-special-rights approach, Mills says she interprets the new study's findings as a function of corporate practicality and competition -- particularly in the tight labor market envisioned by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.

graphic
Kim Mills  

"I think corporate America is somewhat imitative," Mills says. "Many have jumped into the water and so their competitors are now coming in because they know this (domestic-partner benefits) is something you offer to attract and keep good employees.

"And an increasing number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered workers are being honest about themselves on the job. As they come out at work, in their careers, they ask for equal treatment."

graphic

Home, hearth and heterosexuals

Domestic-partnership benefits usually are preceded by and/or accompanied by corporate anti-discrimination policies that can figure into sexual-harassment protection for employees.

Gini, whose new book is "My Job, My Self "(Routledge, June), says, "While this all has been led by efforts in gay rights, the fact is that it really goes all the way back to Grandma and Grandpa" and circumstances that can lead to unmarried partnership among heterosexuals.

"Corporate America is ahead of Congress and the judiciary in this area, and is leading the way in equal treatment for gays and lesbians in the workplace."
— Kim Mills, Human Rights Campaign

"Say your grandparent's spouse dies. The surviving one meets a new person at the senior center. They end up having to live together instead of marrying because they'll lose Social Security or other benefits if they remarry. In that instance, you've got a need for some domestic-partner rights right there and this is no gay situation at all.

"And it's not just among older generations. This is a society that has sustained for years a 50-percent divorce rate -- 65 percent on the second marriage. People, some of them quite young, have been emotionally bruised and put-upon by child support. They're very reluctant to marry. And yet without that ceremony, you're still talking about a living bond, and another argument for partner rights among heterosexuals.

  PARTNERS AND PROFITS
Some people argue that domestic-partner benefits -- and non-discriminatory dealings with homosexual citizens in daily life -- are a matter of conscience and "doing what's right."
But Al Gini says practical realities are what really fuel American society's evolving acceptance of gays.

"So now with gays, look at it this way," Gini takes his point to the homosexual perspective: "Without the partnership rights everyone else has, a gay couple can't sign agreements in regard to finances, health care, burial rites or estate issues" to leave assets to a domestic partner after death.

"They can't even sign a document to permit surgery if their partner is unconscious and needs treatment. Basically, that couple has no more rights than two college roommates in a dorm room."

graphic

'Appeasing the homosexual community'

Allen Wildmon is the public relations director for the American Family Association in Tupelo, Mississippi. The association, Wildmon says, disagrees with Mills' and Gini's assessment that employers' anti-discrimination policies and the upturn in domestic-partner benefits are motivated by practical efforts to employ a strong workforce.

graphic

"Money," Wildmon says. "The bottom line is money. The corporations are going after the homosexual market" as consumers. "The homosexual market is known to be very loyal to those companies that offer these accommodations."

Wildmon's association, in its mission statement, says the American Family Association "exists to motivate and equip individuals to restore the moral foundations of American culture." The organization lists marriage and family as the first of five areas of its interest, the others being decency and morality; the sanctity of human life; stewardship; and media integrity.

If corporate motives are aimed at what Wildmon says is an effort at "appeasing the homosexual community," then "morals don't enter into it, either," he says. "The companies will say the benefits are based on non-discrimination policies on the basis of sexual orientation. But they don't define sexual orientation.

"But at what point do you draw the line?" Wildmon asks. "What if you have a man with four women partners who want to live together and he wants benefits for all of them? If a company says no, is that discrimination?

"You have to realize that the corporations do not want -- and the homosexual community does not want -- to discuss behavior. When you try to legally define sexual orientation, you get into behavior. If you do that, you'll turn off that homosexual market."

graphic

Corporations and Congress

"But part of this," says the HRC's Mills, "is an appreciation for diversity."

When it was announced in late June that Coca-Cola will extend health benefits to same-sex partners of employees starting January 1, Coke president and COO Jack Stahl cited just that, saying the company "is committed to attracting and retaining the most diverse workforce in the world. Today's announcement is another step toward achieving that goal."

  ASSOCIATION AND 'FAMILY'
In September, the American Family Association released an "action alert" to its membership, criticizing a John Hancock Financial Services commercial that the association says pictured two women partners as parents of a child.
Read more about it.

In a prepared statement, the company also said it was considering expanding domestic-partner coverage to employees based outside the United States.

The HRC's study reports that the number of cities and counties prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation has climbed from 16 in 1980 to 116 in 2000. And there's reason to anticipate more corporate offers of benefits under pressure from such local-government regulations.

During the report's study period, Seattle and Los Angeles passed laws similar to one in San Francisco, which since 1997 has required any employer under contract to the city to offer equal benefits to employees' domestic partners. In San Francisco, the study found a 25-percent increase in benefits, as compliance with that law rose from 2,168 companies in July 1999 to 2,707 this past July.

"Corporate America is ahead of Congress and the judiciary in this area," Mills says, "and is leading the way in equal treatment for gays and lesbians in the workplace."

Among employers with non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation:
•  255 are Fortune 500 companies
•  883 are other private-sector firms, including nonprofit and labor groups
•  308 are colleges and universities
•  225 are state and local governments
•  37 are federal departments and agencies.
— Human Rights Campaign, "State of the Workplace" study
 

RELATED STORIES:
Same-sex marriage laws across the United States
May 25, 2000
New Jersey court awards visitation rights to lesbian parent
April 6, 2000
Vermont's top court backs rights for same-sex couples
December 21, 1999
Gay activists slam ExxonMobil's new benefits policy
December 7, 1999

RELATED SITES:
American Family Association
Human Rights Campaign


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