Wal-Mart Health Benefits Move Seen As a Gay Rights Win

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Oct. 28, 2013 12:00 am  

Wal-Mart said health benefits to its U.S. workers’ domestic partners will start in January.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said in August that it will offer health benefits to its U.S. workers’ domestic partners starting Jan. 1, just as a majority of Fortune 500 companies have already done.

“Most large companies, even midsize employers as well, … already offer benefits to domestic partners,” said Bruce Elliott, compensation and benefits manager at the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va. “What they’re doing is nothing new.”

But the fact that Wal-Mart — the largest private employer with 1.3 million workers in the U.S. — has decided to offer the benefits is a high-profile win for gay-rights advocates and could cause other companies that haven’t offered the benefits to do so.

“This will be influential for other businesses,” said Deena Fidas, director of the workplace equality program at the Human Rights Campaign of Washington, D.C., which is working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

Even the Family Council, a conservative organization headquartered in Little Rock, didn’t have a problem with Wal-Mart’s decision.

“It’s a free county and they have a right to offer any benefits that they want to and we support their right to do that,” said Jerry Cox, president of Family Council. “And that’s pretty much the end of the discussion.”

He added that Wal-Mart’s decision to offer benefits to domestic partners includes the opposite sex too.

The Bentonville retailer’s announcement came just months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages in states where they are legal.

In Arkansas, the state constitution’s ban on same-sex marriage, which was proposed by the Family Council and adopted by voters in 2004, is being challenged in U.S. District Court in Little Rock. Attorney Jack Wagoner III of Little Rock, who is representing a number of same-sex couples in the case, said he is first asking that the court immediately order Arkansas to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who have been legally married in other states. State officials have filed a motion to dismiss the case, and both requests will be heard at a hearing set for Dec. 12.

Wagoner said the issue of whether Arkansas should be required to allow same-sex couples to legally marry in the state will be decided at a later date.

Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove told Arkansas Business last week that he doesn’t know how many workers have enrolled their domestic partners for health care benefits. The open enrollment period ends Nov. 1. But he said the company doesn’t think extending the benefits will have “a significant financial impact” on the company.

Fidas and Elliott said they think that other businesses will look at Wal-Mart’s decision and realize that it’s now become common to offer health benefits to workers’ domestic partners.



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