Domestic Partner Benefits: Related Laws and Regulations

Filed under: Workplace

No laws prohibit a private employer from offering partner health insurance and other benefits, but federal and state laws do affect the provision of these benefits.

Government entities have been limited by laws such as the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 and state constitutional amendments that have been interpreted to prohibit partner health insurance benefits. However, domestic partners may qualify for health insurance coverage under other structures (see: Domestic Partner Benefit Eligibility: Other Qualified Adult, Legally Domiciled Adult, Plus-One Coverage).

Federal Laws

The Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 precludes most lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer families for the purpose of federal taxes, causing many employees who elect partner benefit coverage to be taxed on the value of those benefits as reported income to the employee. This can also affect participation in Flexible Spending Accounts, Health Savings Accounts and Health Reimbursement Accounts.

Other benefits mandated by law do not generally include domestic partners, but can be provided to domestic partners nonetheless, including family and medical leave (FMLA-equivalent benefit) and COBRA benefits continuation (COBRA-equivalent benefit).

State Laws

Several states and the District of Columbia provide legal constructs for same-sex couples and their dependents. Some of these states make provisions for health insurance benefits for state income tax purposes, and some also extend state family and medical leave, mini-COBRA and similar spousal benefits to same-sex couples.

Equal Benefits Ordinances

An equal benefits ordinance is a law that requires contractors with a state or local government to offer equal benefits to its employees. To comply with such a law, a contractor that offers health insurance and other benefits to employees' spouses must offer equivalent coverage to employees’ domestic partners.

Domestic Partner Registries

Domestic partner registries in some state and local jurisdictions recognize same- and/or opposite-sex couples for the purposes of benefits and services.  These registries serve as an alternative to affidavits and other forms of proof some employers require in order for employees to receive domestic partner benefits.