Sunday, April 15, 2007

Not so much has changed in 50 years

Separate but equal, still isn't equal:
Shannan Hauser and Jennifer Bonfilio of Hamilton say they will form a civil union in two weeks. In theory, it should give them the same benefits that married couples have.

So when the law creating civil unions took effect last month, Bonfilio, who pays $431 a month for health insurance, inquired about being added as a beneficiary on Hauser's medical plan at the New Jersey Carpenters Funds.

"I called to ask if they were going to be honoring that law and providing me with the same coverage that they would any married couple, and I was told no," Bonfilio said. "The woman on the phone actually said to me: 'We do not have to obey New Jersey law.'"

Many other same-sex couples in civil unions are encountering similar problems. At the gay rights organization Lambda Legal, attorney David Buckel said he has gotten scores of complaints, mostly concerning refusals to provide couples in civil unions with the same health benefits provided to married couples.

Buckel said in some cases, employers are refusing to provide benefits because they simply don't know the law. In others, he added, self-insured employers or unions are using a federal law that allows -- but does not require -- denial of coverage for same-sex couples.

In either case, he blames the state's decision to label the relationships of committed same-sex couples "civil unions" rather than marriages.

"In the employment sector in particular, folks don't understand civil unions, and then when they come to understand what they are they find ways to disrespect them," Buckel said. "After all, the state has said that these relationships aren't worthy of marriage."

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