The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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May 24, 2014

Firms’ health plans for gay spouses hazy

— SUNBURY — As same-sex couples begin to marry across Pennsylvania, employers have begun researching the legal framework concerning workplace benefits.

A federal judge on Tuesday overturned Pennsylvania’s ban on gay marriage, and Gov. Tom Corbett announced Wednesday that he wouldn’t appeal the decision.

But that doesn’t mean benefits automatically extend to same-sex spouses, said Mary Catherine Roper, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

“This is one (question) where the answer is not yet 100 percent clear,” she said.

While many employers have extended benefits to domestic partners in the past, there’s no law that explicitly states that a company must offer benefits to spouses, or one that prohibits employers from excluding same-sex spouses from plans.

A regional case that has been argued before the U.S. Supreme Court could affect the benefits question, Roper said.

The Conestoga Wood Specialties case involving the right of an employer to exclude certain coverage from a health-care plan based on religious beliefs could have some influence on how employers, particularly ones with religious objections to homosexuality, handle the question of same-sex spousal benefits, Roper said.

“I think a lot of it’s going to depend on how religious exemption cases in the court turn out,” Roper said.

Valley counties say they are equally unsure how benefits will change.

Northumberland County human resource director Joe Picarelli said the county has already been in touch with its insurance provider and is waiting to hear how to proceed.

“We have a call in to our carrier to verify if (extending benefits) would be the policy,” he said. “We haven’t gotten a definitive answer.”

The situation is similar in Snyder County, chief clerk Lee Knepp said.

“It’s a new territory,” he said. “We don’t know the legal ramifications and don’t have all the answers.”

Officials for Union County could not be reached for comment Friday.

 

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