I like it when benefits news gets covered by the mainstream press. It re-confirms that your work, our work, is important and a necessary part of our national discourse. Whether health care reform, the retirement crisis or work-life balance, it’s meaningful when your workers hear from someone other than you how meaningful the benefits they have — or don’t have — are in their lives.

Over the last several weeks, those issues have been front-and-center for same-sex couples. Just yesterday, President Obama mandated that the nation’s hospitals accepting Medicare or Medicaid funding (basically, nearly all) extend visitation rights to the partners of gays and lesbians and honor patients’ preferences about who can make health care decisions for them.

Currently, most hospitals only allow visitation to spouses or blood relatives. The new directive will be codified with rules written by the Department of Health and Human Services, a process expected to take several months, according to news reports.

Earlier this week, another battle over the right to health benefits for same-sex couples was launched by the Legal Aid Society's Employment Law Center, which on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in San Francisco federal court claiming that the IRS and CalPERS (California Public Employees' Retirement System), have violated employees’ civil rights by preventing same-sex partners from getting long-term care coverage under state-sponsored plans, the AP/Ventura County Star reports.

Although a federal law put on the books in 1996 allows states to set up LTC plans for employees, same-sex partners are left out. When California granted spousal benefits to same-sex couples five years ago, it exempted LTC due to the 1996 law.  The lawsuit names CalPERS because the pension fund administers the state LTC program.

Finally, when Washington, D.C. legalized same-sex marriage in March, local employers and residents took note of a serious unintended consequence — at least one nonprofit organization stopped offering benefits to its employees’ spouses.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese will not offer benefits to the spouses of future employees, current employees who get married in the future, or current spouses who aren’t already enrolled in the benefit plans — ultimately deciding that appearing to uphold the church teaching against same-sex marriage was more important than maintaining spousal benefits.

“As a Catholic social service organization, we follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, which understands marriage to be solely between a man and a woman,” Erik Salmi, senior communications manager for Catholic Charities, told EBN.

“We considered a wide range of ways to approach benefits. We chose the best option that allowed us to be in compliance with D.C. law, remain true to Catholic teachings and still be able to serve the people who turn to us in need. Our preference would have been to continue the benefit plan previously in place. Unfortunately, the city did not leave us that option.”

You can read more about the Catholic Charities decision and how other religious organizations are reacting to state same-sex marriage laws in the May EBN.

Meanwhile, take to the comments and share your thoughts and experiences on how employers can best uphold the rights of same-sex couples and provide equitable, cost-effective benefits to all employees.

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