Walmart to offer same-sex domestic benefits

7:05 PM, Aug 27, 2013   |    comments
Customers shop at a Walmart Neighborhood Market store this month in Chicago. (Photo: Scott Olson, Getty Images)
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In what the largest U.S. gay rights group calls an "historic move," Walmart told employees Monday that it would extend its health and other benefits to "domestic partners" of its employees, including those of the same sex.

The largest U.S. employer made the announcement quietly in a postcard it sent to employees that listed five other changes in benefits for the coming year, including a new vision plan.

Research by the Human Rights Campaign shows 62% of Fortune 500 companies already offer health benefits to domestic partners.

But the Supreme Court's June decision overturning part of a federal law that denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex partners, has heightened attention on same-sex benefits.

The move also comes as other employers are changing their coverage in ways to be more restrictive in the face of increased costs under the new federal health care law known as Obamacare. UPS and the University of Virginia last week announced plans no longer offer coverage for employee's working spouses if they are eligible for coverage by their own employers.

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Although it is among the large corporation laggards on moving to offer domestic partner coverage, Chad Griffin, HRC's president, heralded Walmart's decision. Griffin said even worked at his local Arkansas Walmart as a teen.

"I am moved by my former employer's historic action that further proves equality is good business," Griffin said in an e-mailed statement.

Walmart "has sent a cultural signal that equality for LGBT (lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender) people is the simplest of mainstream values and we look forward to continuing to work with them," Griffin said.

Griffin said Walmart has worked to improve its score on the group's "corporate equality index."

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said the company had been working to better define what a domestic partner is and that the Supreme Court's decision helped prompt its move.

Partners of Walmart employees can be of the same or opposite sex and married or unmarried, as long as they've been "living together in an ongoing exclusive" relationship for at least 12 months and intend to stay that way, said Hargrove. Still, Hargrove said "no proof is required today to enroll a spouse."

Lucas Handy, an openly gay former Walmart associate from Fort Dodge, Iowa, says "it shocked me completely" when he heard of the change in Walmart's benefits.

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