File this one under unintended consequences.
Since the Supreme Court’s national mandate on gay marriage there has been plenty of partying going on in the rainbow coalition, but the good times may be coming to an end for some couples. Federal employees in same sex domestic partnerships (read: what we used to call “living together in sin” for traditional couples) will no longer be able to get health insurance for their partner’s children unless they “put a ring on it.” (Washington Post)
The Obama administration reversed a policy Monday that had allowed unmarried federal employees and retirees in same-sex domestic partnerships to obtain insurance coverage for children of their partners under certain conditions.
The change, applying to the separate insurance programs for health care and for vision and dental care, is a fallout of the June U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring all states to allow and recognize same-sex marriage. It overturns a policy that itself was a result of a ruling by the high court two years earlier and could be a harbinger of other changes in eligibility for federal employee benefits.
This was a policy that had been in place since the 2013 Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Windsor, where it was ruled that since federal employees could not have their marriage (or partnership) officially recognized, they were being denied the same employee benefits of traditional married couples. But now that those conditions no longer exist, the old rules which always applied to married couples now cover anyone. If a man and woman had a child they couldn’t get full health insurance benefits for the non-employee’s children unless they got hitched, so now that will apply to everyone again.
I wasn’t one of the people fighting against the idea of gay marriage (just the idea of the government being involved in it) but I used to joke with some of my friends that I wasn’t in favor of gay marriage but I was really big on the idea of gay divorce. The basic punchline there was that gay couples had been getting off far too easy in the past when they broke up and should be able to enjoy alimony and division of property court battles like the rest of us. This is a bit more serious of a topic, but it clearly falls on the right side of the scale in terms of equality needing to go in both directions. If a man and a woman have to be married to obtain certain benefits, why should two men or two women be able to just shack up and get them?
This decision might bring up a raft of other rights and benefits issues now that I think about it. Prior to same sex marriage becoming the law of the land there were a number of cases going through the courts regarding things like visitation rights in hospitals. There were several of these cases, such as Langbehn v. Jackson in Florida, where hospitals were allowed to have policies restricting patient visitation to immediate family, including spouses and children. When one partner in a gay couple was admitted, the other partner and their children (if they were the biological offspring of the non-hospitalized partner) were not permitted entry or access to medical information. Adjustments had to be made for gay couples, but now that gay marriage is the law of the land, will the partners be told to “put a ring on it” if they want to get in to visit? And if not… why?
This is a legal question more than a moral one and I think people deserve to expect some consistency. If a dating, heterosexual couple can have the boyfriend barred from the girlfriend’s hospital room (even if they live together, have kids, etc.) then why would we bend the rules for another unmarried couple simply because they happen to be of the same gender? This may turn out to be a whole new can of worms and it sort of harkens back to the tired old joke I made above. You said you wanted all the benefits of marriage. Now you’ve got them. Enjoy!