The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

You Asked for It, You Got It. Get Married.

I’ve seen a couple of blog posts about Boston Globe’s new policy regarding benefits for same-sex partners of employees, and it struck me as worth commenting on.

Memo to Boston Globe gay and lesbian Guild employees: Get married or lose your domestic partner benefits.

Globe staffers have been told that health and dental benefits for gay employees’ domestic partners are being discontinued. Gay couples who want to keep their benefits must marry by Jan. 1.

A memo sent to the Globe’s Boston Newspaper Guild members, and obtained by the Herald, states that Massachusetts gay Guild employees can extend their benefits to their partners only if they marry.

“An employee who currently covers a same-sex domestic partner as a dependent will have to marry his or her partner by Jan. 1 for the employee benefits coverage to continue at the employee rates,” the memo states.

The policy change at the Globe, which devotes extensive coverage to gay issues, opens a new can of worms in the Bay State as employers rethink their domestic partner benefits in the wake of the legalization of gay marriage in 2004.

Benefits for domestic partners were originally offered to gay employees because they couldn’t legally marry, said Ilene Robinson Sunshine, a lawyer at Sullivan & Worcester.

Now that gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts companies that offer benefits to gay employees’ partners risk hearing cries of discrimination from unmarried straight couples.

I’ve noticed a few conservative blogs having a chuckle over it, but honestly I don’t have a problem with this policy at all.

Actually, I find myself agreeing with some more conservative gay writers on this one; among them, Andrew Sullivan.

And so the socially conservative impulse behind gay marriage is revealed – and proven in practice. This is the real slippery slope: of gay people sliding into integration and responsibility. And that’s what many alleged conservatives want to prevent.

Yup. There’s some irony there. On the one hand, conservatives consistently stereotype all gays as “selfish hedonists” who flee from responsibility and stop at nothing to flout social norms. (I know, I know. There’s a whole other debate to be had, and a legitimate one, about the value of flouting some social norms.) Yet, the minute some of us actually choose to assume some greater responsibility, for one another and for our family, those same conservative holler “Oh, no you don’t!”

I think sometimes that the real outrage about same-sex marriage is the earth-shattering notion that yet another minority might dare to break out of the stereotype many others would apply to them. It’s scary when people act in ways that shatter your dearly held view of how the world is; indeed how it must be. It makes one want to shout “How dare you be anything other than what we say you are!”

But there’s something else that comes to mind upon reading this. The article mentions the possibility of “cries of discrimination” from heterosexual employees at the Globe, and I was reminded of something I read a while back in Jonathan Rauch’s book Gay Marriage : Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America, in which he makes the point that domestic partnership benefits and civil unions are actually more likely to cause justifiable “cries of discrimination” from heterosexuals.

According to Rauch, the courts will then likely grant heterosexuals access to both as alternatives to marriage, thus actually weakening marriage more than anyone believes same-sex marriage would. The reason being that heterosexual couples will actually end up with more alternatives to marriage, and thus will have fewer reasons and incentives to marry, while same-sex couples will still have no alternatives equal to marriage.

And I ask you, if civil unions are to be endowed with all the rights and responsibilities of marriage, why set up a separate institution in the first place? In truth, the reason civil unions are more acceptable to some people is precisely because they don’t offer the same rights and protections as marriage. They will never be equal to marriage. And stories like this one underscore just how and why civil unions as an alternative still leave same-sex couples and families largely unprotected.

I tend to agree with Rauch assessment that the best way for gays to get the rights and protections of marriage is to get married. And the best way for society to protect marriage and at the same time protect the human rights of same-sex couples is to let us get married. Basically, if we want the rights and protections, we have to step up and assume the responsibilities that go along with them, and we have to be allowed to do so.

So, were I an employee at the Globe. I wouldn’t have a problem with the new policy. Instead of making a call to HR, I’d be making an appointment with the Justice o’ f the Peace at city hall.

One Comment

  1. I’m of the same opinion as you on this one. If same-sex couples can gain the rights and responsibilities of marriage by getting married, then there’s no reason for alternatives. I think it’s worth noting, though, that the Globe will continue domestic partner benefits for employees who live in states where same-sex marriage is not recognized. It’s going to get very interesting as companies start to sort out the benefits of gay employees who live in one state and work in another. My hope (perhaps a misplaced one) is that we’ll soon be able to marry in either New Jersey or New York (we’re down, but not out, here), and the other of the two will be forced to follow because of a revolt of HR professionals and their supporting IT departments. Speaking personally, I’ve flipped between working in NY and living in NJ, and the reverse, at least three times.