Monday, July 09, 2007

UPS denies partner benefits to civil-unioned couple

From the Ocean County Observer

TRENTON … United Parcel Service has denied health benefits to
some same-sex couples in New Jersey, a decision gay rights advocates say
starkly illustrates the limitations of the state's civil unions

The company provides health benefits to its employees' spouses,
including married gay couples in Massachusetts. However, it said the Garden
State's decision to recognize same-sex relationships as civil unions,
rather than marriages, has tied its hands.

In a letter to Gabriael ""Nickie'' Brazier, a driver for UPS, and her
civil union partner, Heather Aurand, the company concluded that ""New
Jersey law does not treat civil unions the same as marriages.'' It said if
the state had done that, Aurand could have been included in the health
coverage plan as a spouse.

""This is a problem the Legislature created,'' Steven Goldstein,
chairman of the gay rights group Garden State Equality, told The
Star-Ledger of Newark for Sunday's editions. ""Civil unions are never in
our lifetime going to be respected by employers like marriage.''

Aurand agreed, noting that gay and lesbian couples were supposed to be
treated equally under the law and ""should be treated equally.'' She became
a stay-at-home mom after the Toms River couple's son, Zachary, was born in
2004, and the couple formed their civil union on Feb. 21, days after the
state law took effect and a week before their twins, Joshua and Riley, were

Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo, D-Essex, who sponsored the civil union
law, said he did not understand the company's decision.

""We made it clear through the language and the intent that when it came
to issues like this, we fully expected civil-unioned couples would be
covered,'' he said.

However, benefit plans offered by many employers, including UPS, are
governed by federal law, which recognizes only the union of a man and a
woman as a marriage. Those companies are allowed, although not required, to
deny benefits to partners in other relationships.

Another longtime UPS driver, Tom Walton of East Brunswick, said he was
verbally rejected when he sought health coverage for his civil union
partner, Mermon Davis. Walton, though, said he has not received a formal
explanation for the decision.

""It's upsetting,'' Walton said. ""We were told this law was going to
give us the same benefits as everybody else, even though they weren't
calling it marriage. It just goes to show when something is separate, it's
never equal.

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