Pockets of Change

Scales of JusticeAs we progress into the 21st century, more people across America than ever are accepting and respectful of same-sex relationships. Certain pockets of the country have, of course, progressed more or less rapidly. While New York City exhibits a colossal billboard of two shirtless males locked in an intimate embrace, for example, Alabama has only just in 2003 struck down its laws criminalizing same-sex sexual activity. These differences in ideology make it difficult to catalyze one, uniform change in our country’s politics. As a result, not only does each state hold different laws, but within each state, each county may have disparate laws regarding same-sex relationships.

In Pennsylvania, for example, state statutes ban same-sex marriages at state-wide level, while the city of Philadelphia recognizes domestic partnerships. Same-sex couples in Philadelphia have been protected under the city’s life partnership policy since 1998. This legislation, Bills No. 9707050 and 970745, made life partners of city employees eligible for various employee health plan benefits, as well as eligible to be named as the beneficiary or survivor of their life partner under retirement plans.

Effective March 5th of this year, qualified Allegheny County employees have had the opportunity

to enroll their same-sex domestic partnerships in the county’s group health and dental plans. The enrollment period will end on March 16th, and coverage for the partnerships is expected to take effect April 1st, 2012. (For more information on the enrollment process, click here.) As for the rest of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg offer similar opportunity for gay couples and, just in August 2011, the Borough of State College council approved a domestic-partner registry in the municipality.

Supporters of partnership recognition laws are making similar waves elsewhere in the country. Though Maryland in its entirety is expected to provide same-sex marriage to any citizen, regardless of residency, starting January 1, 2013, the Equal Benefits Law passed back in January 2011 helped lay the groundwork for this shift.

Maryland’s Montgomery County began enforcing that contractors and subcontractors provide the same benefits to a city employee in a domestic partnership as an employee in a marriage. These benefits include bereavement leave, family medical leave, health and dental benefits, disability insurance, life insurance and retirement benefits. Maryland is an exciting example of how things may change in places like Utah and Louisiana where, as of now, there is a single county in each state that offers legal registration and benefits opportunities for same-sex couples.

The breakdown is as follows:

At present, there are 19 states that offer partner benefits through same-sex marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships, or designated beneficiary agreements; 14 states which have at least one county or city recognizing such unions; and 17 states that do not offer, in any corner of their land, any form of legal documentation recognizing same-sex partnerships.

As you can see, the scales have tipped, even if slightly, in favor of relationship recognition for same-sex couples across the U.S.! And, with each small community that takes a stand in this monumental civil rights movement, this great nation will get closer and closer to providing true equality for all of our citizens, regardless of sexual orientation.


Photo Credit: © Tmcnem | Dreamstime.com

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Ellen S. Fischer of the Law Office of Ellen S. Fischer has been working closely with individuals and families throughout the greater Philadelphia region for more than 20 years. Ellen received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Temple University and returned to earn a Juris Doctor degree from the Temple University School of Law. Ellen serves on a number of leadership committees and is a member of Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia (GALLOP). In addition to LGBTQ services, Ellen's practice areas are family law and personal injury.