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Benefits for Gay Couples

July 21, 1993

In response to "Bias for Gays: Hollywood's Dual Standard," Column Right, July 13:

Joseph Farah's mean-spirited attack on the extension of health benefits to entertainment industry employees' (and guild members') same-sex partners misstates the facts and misses the point. I headed the industry task force of benefits experts, lawyers and accountants that drafted the policy, which has now been adopted by four industry employers. Far from creating "special privileges" for gay and lesbian couples, it is simply an effort to eliminate a longstanding inequity by which lesbian and gay workers receive less pay for equal work.

Benefits make up a growing portion of employee compensation, and the largest component of benefits is health insurance. There is no law requiring employers to extend benefits to employees' spouses, yet most major employers have chosen to do so, setting up an inequity with respect to similarly situated employees in marriage-equivalent relationships who are legally barred from marriage. Heterosexual domestic partners, who don't face the stigma and discrimination that traditionally has been the lot of gays and lesbians in the workplace, may have plenty of good reasons for not getting married, but they can legally choose to do so to secure spousal benefits. Gay and lesbian employees simply do not have this right.

There are substantial criteria that need to be met for eligibility for this benefit, and it is not available to people who are simply "shacking up," in Farah's words. Employees opting for the benefit must, among other conditions, state under penalty of perjury that they and their partner are in a committed relationship, reside together, and share a mutual obligation of support for the basic necessities of life. Further, they must establish that they are financially interdependent (i.e., have a joint checking account or real property in joint names), and have registered as domestic partners if they live in a jurisdiction that permits such registration.

Because federal and state tax laws provide exemptions only for benefits extended to legally recognized spouses, there is still inequality with this benefit.

RICHARD JENNINGS

Los Angeles

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Farah is correct in stating that some benefits now being awarded to same-sex partners could be construed as being discriminatory for the reason that they are not always available to unmarried heterosexual couples. However, he too easily dismisses the justification for why many companies and municipalities, nationwide, are now adopting these new benefits, especially with regard to health care coverage.

The courts have always upheld the right for "special" rules to exist for minority groups when it has been shown that a clear history of bias has existed against them. That is why affirmative action laws are on the books and hate crime laws exist. The same holds true in this case.

Farah asks the question of whether all or most homosexual couples would marry if given the chance. The real question that he needs to ask himself is would these special benefits need to exist if gay couples could get married. The answer is obviously no and the author's avoidance of this question clearly shows his disdain toward allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

We eventually expect to be granted this most basic human right. In the meantime, the gay community is thankful that some companies are taking the initiative to do the right thing.

DWAYNE S. DAVIS

Costa Mesa

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