As more states make same-sex marriage legal and leaders of the Democratic Party consider including language endorsing same-sex marriage in their 2012 platform, you may wonder how the decision to offer benefits to same-sex partners impacts you, the small business owner.
In my experience having provided benefits to same-sex couples, I say it's no more difficult to do than make available benefits to any married (legal, common law, or otherwise) couple. The forms and human resource processes are basically the same with a minor modification: proof that the couple has lived together for some period of time, which varies between insurance companies.
This is because, even if same-sex marriage is legal at a state level (it's not in Georgia, where my company is based) the individuals must still file federal tax returns as "single" because the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage.
In these cases, the insurance company most often views the partner as a dependent, not a spouse, though some use the words "domestic partner." In addition, in line with federal law, premiums for a domestic partner are taken out after taxes, whereas a spouse's premiums are taken out pre-tax. So a same-sex couple is paying slightly more in premiums because the partner's premiums are being paid for in after tax dollars.
At my company and the majority of small companies, the burden for paying the additional premiums to add a partner is passed along to the employee, just as it would be for the spouse or children of a heterosexual couple. Providing this option doesn't increase my out-of-pocket expenses.
Frankly, it probably saves me money. How?
With the safety net of a benefits package, the employee's partner is more likely to go to the doctor sooner when sick and use preventive options like annual physicals or mammograms that can provide for early detection of more serious conditions. If the partner does become sick, my employee may be impacted by missing work to take care of his or her partner. And if the partner doesn't have benefits, I am ultimately paying for his or her care through taxes that support a government program.
I understand the need and worry it can cause an individual to not have access to benefits. When I started User Insight, my wife went back to work as a school teacher primarily to provide medical benefits for our family. Of course, the very same thing impacts my same-sex partnered employees. By providing same-sex couples the same rights and access I have (at least within the federal limits), I am taking away one less worry and ultimately allowing my employee to focus on the job.
At the end of the day, what my employees do with their personal lives is their business. They don't tell me how I should run my company (usually). I in turn shouldn't meddle in how they choose to lead their lives. As an employer I feel it is my responsibility to provide employees with equal access to our benefits packages.