There's an interesting column in The Arizona Republic about the decision by Arizona Public Services, a private electric utility, to only extend domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples:
I learned about the new policy from an APS employee who has been involved in a long-term opposite-sex relationship, and who was outraged to learn that heterosexual domestic partners will not be covered by the new policy.
"If the company was providing these benefits for straight couples only and excluding gay couples, the media would be all over this story," the APS employee told me.
That's obviously not true as many corporations and companies exclude same-sex couples because they only give benefits to married couples and people accept that sort of discrimination. But I imagine it would be news if a company decided to give partner benefits to opposite-sex, unmarried partners but not same-sex couples.
The premise is that straight people can just get married so they can still access these benefits. If one accepts that premise, then arguments about the "freedom to marry" and "marriage is a choice" go out the window, as now important, expensive, life-and-death consequences are attached to that decision.
It really doesn't make sense to keep health care and retirement benefits (the expensive ones) from people just because they haven't gotten a contract that has a lot of very personal baggage. The column says as much:
"We chose to offer the benefit to same-sex-only couples," she said. "The main reason for that was that opposite-sex couples are legally permitted to marry and by doing so would automatically have access to benefits right at the time they chose to get married. Then we looked at cost, quite frankly."
There are plenty of reasons why opposite-sex couples may live together and not get married. Some of them legal. Some of them religious. Some simply practical.
And if a company is going to provide benefits for unmarried couples, why should it matter in this day and age if they are gay, straight, divorced, widowed or anything else?
Yet it does.
Sundberg said, "It felt like the right sort of balance of addressing the issues, being competitive, but also being appropriately cost-effective."
The heterosexual APS couple who contacted me have a legitimate reason for not getting married, though to describe it might give away their identity, which they prefer not happen.
Arizona is a community property state, which means that these two people would, in a concrete way, "give away their identity" if they got married. Is their a logical reason they have to communally own the property they acquire in order to get cancer treatment covered by a decent health care plan? If there is a logical reason why they should have to, then why doesn't it apply the 40 states that don't have community property?
When the APS representative interviewed above says that "cost" is one of the reasons they decided on their policy, that means that there is a substantial number of opposite-sex couples that are living together, who fulfill the requirements of domestic partnership, but refuse to get married. It's easy to say that they could just get married to access these benefits, but if so many aren't doing it then there's probably an important reason.
I'd rather not have the state or employers meddling in those private decisions.
And, of course, it should be said that none of this would be important if the US had a single-payer health care system and a pension system run by the federal government that paid enough to live off of.