Health Benefits for Gays

Legal challenge to Cambridge ordinance punctuates need for revision of antiquated state law

Progress in fighting discrimination, as well as the provision of health insurance to dozens of Cambridge residents, are at stake in the current battle over a Cambridge ordinance that grants gay and lesbian partners the same treatment and public health benefits as spouses.

The city has been sued by the Catholic Action League (CAL) and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) on grounds that the 1992 ordinance is inconsistent with state law and with the state constitution. These two groups last year succeeded in overturning Boston Mayor Thomas A. Menino's executive order granting similar coverage to domestic partners.

The Cambridge ordinance allows domestic partners to receive access to confidential records as well as hospital and jail visitation rights. The partners of city employees also receive health insurance benefits, which are ordinarily extended only to parents and spouses under a 1955 Massachusetts law. The CAL and ACLJ have used this law in a mean-spirited effort to revoke the benefits that forty city employees have enjoyed for eight years.

The Cambridge ordinance has always been a symbol of Cambridge's willingness to treat its residents fairly. Although the challenge to the health insurance provision of the ordinance is likely to be upheld in court, supporters of equality ought to lobby for a change in the antiquated state law. There is no justification for denying two people in a committed, long-term relationship the same benefits--particularly benefits as basic and vital as health insurance--that married couples enjoy. To give benefits to members of one type of relationship and not another makes a discriminatory value judgment about the worth of a particular type of companionship. The Massachusetts Senate passed a bill in November to extend such benefits to domestic partners; the House should approve the bill as well.

The lawsuit only targets partners' health benefits, meaning that even if the suit is successful domestic partners will still retain some of their rights under the ordinance. Regardless, the loss of heath insurance benefits to so many people for such a fundamentally unjust reason would be a tragedy. If Massachusetts will not allow same-sex marriage, it at least ought to grant domestic partners fair and equal benefits.


Cambridge has traditionally played an active role in breaking down barriers of discrimination against gays and lesbians. This ordinance, perhaps ahead of its time, is a prime example of that spirit. It is disheartening to see these efforts under attack from the forces of intolerance.

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