The Washington Blade reports that the State Department is considering phasing out domestic partner (DP) benefits for unmarried gay employees now that the government can recognize same-sex marriages. There have been some objections raised, but once gay couples are free to wed throughout the nation, DP benefits will have served their purpose and can be dispensed with. This has already happened at many companies in states with marriage equality.
The Blade notes that one gay State Department employee complained: “While it’s great that we can get married much more easily now, my partner and I are not looking forward to being forced into a shotgun marriage due to a policy change that takes away the benefits we were promised.”
But spousal benefits are intended for family units with a commitment to permanency, and hence marriage—two individuals who by dint of legally binding mutual obligations are treated as a collective singular. They aren’t, or shouldn’t be, freebies for shacking up. If you want the benefits of being a spouse, that requires accepting the legal responsibilities of marriage. And that, in fact, was a theme we’ve sounded here at IGF CultureWatch over the decades. Ten years ago I wrote With Marriage an Option, Who Needs DP Benefits?, as Massachusetts was about to become the first state to recognize same-sex marriages (and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, one of the state’s largest employers, moved to drop DP benefits for state residents).
That 2004 post noted another post, from 10 years earlier, in which I took a critical view of activists demanding that private employers provide DP benefits to both gay and straight couples alike:
How much more constructive it would be if our movement, while pushing for full marriage rights, stopped making alliances with cultural leftists favoring benefits for unwed heteros. As David Boaz advocates in the January 1994 issue of Liberty, a libertarian journal, workers should be told “if you want the benefits of marriage, get married; but if the state won’t let you get married, we’ll be more progressive.” Benefits, he asserts, should not be seen “as one more goodie to hand out,” but “as a way of remedying an unfairness, not to mention retaining valued employees.”
He’s right. Domestic partnership benefits should be a stopgap measure for gays and lesbians until we achieve full marriage rights (based on legally recognized commitments).
That day, thankfully, will soon be upon us.