Fairness in Employee Benefits

Mass. must amend or repeal archaic law denying insurance to domestic partners

Last week, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge James F. McHugh overturned a Cambridge city ordinance granting healthcare benefits to the "domestic partners" of homosexual city employees. The suit in which McHugh ruled was filed by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a Virginia-based law firm founded by noted evangelist Pat Robertson, which claimed that the domestic partnerships recognized by the Cambridge ordinance were "a Trojan Horse for same-sex marriage." However, while McHugh rejected this claim, noting that the Cambridge statute intended only "to provide a better life for those who daily serve its citizens," an archaic 1955 Massachusetts statute limiting insurance benefits to workers' spouses and children prevented him from upholding the Cambridge ordinance. It is high time that this statute be amended or repealed.

State Rep. Alice K. Wolf, who proposed the 1992 Cambridge ordinance as a city councilor, has authored a bill to replace the 1955 law and allow state workers domestic partnership benefits and municipalities the option of such benefits. The bill passed the state Senate last November, but has since stalled in the House Ways and Means Committee. It is imperative that representatives take action to move this bill though committee and, if such actions fail, that they initiate new legislation directed at the same end. Providing domestic partnership benefits is fundamental to recognizing the equal rights of all employees, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts bears a badge of injustice so long as such benefits are prohibited.

Moreover, we urge the ACLJ, who successfully overturned a similar ordinance in Boston last year, to abandon its cruel and inhumane crusade to deny benefits to the partners of gay city employees. Granting health care benefits to individuals in same-sex partnerships does not undermine the sanctity of traditional marriages, but rather demonstrates a city's commitment to providing equal, and much needed, benefits to all of its employees. It is deplorable that an out-of-state group would attempt to systematically undermine the laudable initiatives of forward-thinking city councils.

Cambridge was the first city in Massachusetts and the 19th in the nation to extend healthcare benefits to the domestic partners of its city employees. This commitment to equality and justice should be fully supported, not undercut by state statues. While there may be some hope in an appeal of the recent ruling, equal rights for homosexuals will not be secure until Massachusetts state law is changed. A full-fledged effort to do so must begin now.