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Sunday, July 08, 2007

"Civil Unions" - Not All They're Cracked Up To Be

Sometime in the last couple of weeks, I posted about New Jersey's problems with enforcing its Civil Union Law. At that time I didn't know many details; just that it was happening with increasing frequency.

I received this email from Garden State Equality just a few minutes ago. It explains some of the reasons why the New Jersey Civil Union Act isn't working while the Massachusetts marriage law evidently is.

I'm still waiting for God to come down and strike Massachusetts but it hasn't happened yet.


If you didn't see yesterday's Sunday Star-Ledger investigation revealing how civil unions in New Jersey are failing to provide equality, here it is, below.

The article describes how New Jersey's civil unions law is falling way short of providing equality to same-sex couples -- specifically how one firm, UPS, is providing benefits to married same-sex couples in Massachusetts but not to civil-unioned couples in New Jersey.

Garden State Equality has other cases like this. An investigation in last week's Washington Post reported how employers in Massachusetts, where there is real marriage equality, are not invoking a federal law loophole, whereas employers in New Jersey are.

Same-sex couples in Massachusetts are consistently getting equality. Same-sex couples in New Jersey are not. The word "marriage" is making all the persuasive difference in the world. That's why Garden State Equality is fighting day and night, with all our blood, sweat and tears, to bring marriage equality to New Jersey by the end of next year.

To help us win marriage equality in New Jersey, you may donate to Garden State Equality online at www.GardenStateEquality.org. Thanks so much.
Star-Ledger, Sunday, July 8, 2007
In denying benefits, firm says civil union not marriage's equal

By Robert Schwaneberg

A company that provides health care coverage to married gay couples in Massachusetts has denied the same benefits to a couple who entered a civil union in New Jersey.

United Parcel Service's decision to deny coverage to a Toms River couple boils down to a single word: New Jersey law does not call them "spouses."

"We were supposed to be treated equally. We should be treated equally," said Heather Aurand, who was denied health care coverage by UPS, which employs Aurand's civil union partner, Gabriael "Nickie" Brazier.

In its letter denying coverage, UPS said it does provide health benefits to its employees' spouses, including spouses of the same sex who are married in Massachusetts. But it said New Jersey's decision to recognize same-sex relationships as civil unions rather than marriages tied its hands.

Gay rights activists called it the starkest proof to date that New Jersey's civil union law has failed to deliver on its promise to provide all the benefits of marriage, but by a different name.

"The Legislature said: You folks aren't worthy of marriage. That has an impact," said David Buckel, a lawyer with the gay rights organization Lambda Legal. "If the New Jersey Legislature would just take back the invitation to discriminate, UPS would do the right thing."

"This is a problem the Legislature created," added Steven Goldstein, chairman of the gay rights group Garden State Equality. "Civil unions are never in our lifetime going to be respected by employers like marriage."

Garden State Equality has received 176 complaints from couples who said their civil unions were not honored, Goldstein said, adding that it has created great disillusionment within the gay community.

In its letter, UPS said the New Jersey Legislature, in enacting the state's civil union law, "did not go as far as Massachusetts and afford same-sex couples the ability to marry. Had the New Jersey Legislature done that, you could have added Ms. Aurand as a spouse under the plan."

The letter concluded that "New Jersey law does not treat civil unions the same as marriages."

"I'm shocked," said Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo (D-Essex), who sponsored the civil union law. "We made it clear through the language and the intent that when it came to issues like this, we fully expected civil-unioned couples would be covered."

Tom Prol, a trustee of the New Jersey State Bar Association, said UPS's position was "a misinterpretation, clearly, of the civil union law." He noted that law states: "Civil union couples shall have all of the same benefits . . . as are granted to spouses in a marriage."

But benefit plans offered by many employers, including UPS, are governed by federal law, which recognizes only the union of a man and a woman as a marriage. Those companies are allowed, although not required, to deny benefits to partners in other relationships.

In its letter, UPS said the health plan it negotiated for its workers provides benefits only to "a spouse as defined under applicable state law." It added that the company "cannot unilaterally change plan provisions outside of the collective-bargaining process." A message left at UPS headquarters in Atlanta seeking further comment from the company was not returned.

Aurand and Brazier said they were hopeful when Gov. Jon Corzine, while signing the civil union law in December, declared: "Through our actions today, we will provide equal rights for same-sex couples."

"That's what we believed," said Brazier, 37, a driver for UPS for six years. She and Aurand, 36, met seven years ago in Pennsylvania and bought their house in Toms River in 2001.

"We plan on staying together the rest of our lives," said Aurand, who became a stay-at-home mom after their son Zachary was born in 2004. They formed their civil union on Feb. 21, days after the new law took effect and the week before the birth of their twins, Joshua and Riley.

Brazier, who knew UPS provided health benefits to same-sex spouses in Massachusetts, expected it would extend them to Aurand. But the company said no.

"It was devastating. We were for certain we would get coverage," Aurand said. "Financially it puts a burden on us. We have to pay a couple of hundred dollars a month that we could be using for other things."

Other same-sex couples have encountered the same problem because of the conflict between state law and the federal Defense Of Marriage Act, which does not recognize same-sex unions.

Buckel said the case of Brazier and Aurand is a new wrinkle, as they were turned down not because they are of the same sex, but because of the label New Jersey gave to their relationship.

"It's probably going to be happening more and more," Buckel said.

Already, Tom Walton of East Brunswick, a driver for UPS for 14 years, said he was verbally rejected when he sought health coverage for his civil union partner, Mermon Davis. He said he has not gotten a formal explanation.

"It's upsetting," Walton said. "We were told this law was going to give us the same benefits as everybody else, even though they weren't calling it marriage. It just goes to show when something is separate, it's never equal."

Walton, 42, said he and Davis, 44, have been together 15 years and had their civil union ceremony over the Memorial Day weekend.

Buckel said the next step will be "to try to persuade UPS to change its mind," adding that Lambda Legal also will be talking to lawmakers about changing the law to allow same sex couples to marry.

Goldstein added, "We've heard from many legislators that this is something they want to deal with in 2008."

As for the civil union law, he said, "They know it's a disaster. In the real world, civil unions are to marriage what artificial sweetener is to sugar. It's not the same thing and it leaves a bad aftertaste."

COMMENTS:
ThomasLB said...

This comment is off topic (so you can delete if after you read it and won't hurt my feelings), but I just noticed under Settings / Formatting, at the very bottom of the page, there is an option called "Enable Float Alignment." It says to uncheck the box if you're having formatting problems.

Have you tried that yet?

Monday, July 09, 2007 6:29:00 AM

Delete
ThomasLB said...

I knew two guys who shared an apartment. One was mentally handicapped, one was physically handicapped. They looked after each other and cared for each other. They weren't gay, they were close like brothers.

One of them died. His body was stored for a year at the county morgue, then buried in a pauper's grave. Because they were not related, his friend was not allowed to claim the body and give him a funeral and a headstone.

I wish there was a way for anybody that wanted to call themselves a family to legally accept responsibility for each other.

When going "by the book" hurts people, that damn book needs to be thrown out!

Before I boycott UPS, I'm going to write a polite letter asking them to revisit their policy. (That's really just a formality, like playing the national anthem before a baseball game.)

Monday, July 09, 2007 6:50:00 AM

Worried said...

ThomasLB; thank you for the tip re: our blog problems. I do have "no" checked and have ever since I started blogging. Should I check "yes"? I have no idea what to do with the code printed there.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007 12:27:00 AM

Granny said...

WA, I'll check it on granny and see if it's checked yes or no (providing I can find it).

Tuesday, July 10, 2007 12:34:00 AM

AM

ThomasLB said...

It should be on "No" if you're having formatting problems, and since you already have it on "No," that wasn't the problem. Rats- I wish it really was that simple.

Did you get the same email from UPS that I did? Here is the text of it below- they are blaming everything on the Teamster's Union:


-- -- -- -- -- --
I saw your post. Hopefully, you'll be openminded to hear the UPS viewpoint and reconsider your opinion about UPS.

As a matter of corporate policy, UPS currently offers same sex benefits to all non-union employees -- management as well as administrative workers. This includes all such employees in New Jersey, even though the state has failed to recognize gay partners as married spouses. Beyond health care, UPS also offers benefits such as medical leave, pension rights, funeral leave, relocation and transfer benefits. We recently added same-sex benefits as part of a new contract with UPS pilots too.

UPS doesn't legally have the right to give same sex benefits to Ms. Brazier who is cited in this situation because she is part of the Teamsters and any changes to benefits have to be done as part of the collective bargain process.

The contact expires in 2008. Absent a law that specifically categorizes same sex partners as married spouses such as in Mass., UPS cannot unilaterally change a union contract to offer same sex benefits. We have already brought up this issue to the Teamsters for consideration.

The situation regarding Ms. Brazier and her partner is just as disappointing to UPS as it is to them. But for unionized employees, we can only address the issue through the union at contract renewal time.

Lynnette
UPS PR

Tuesday, July 10, 2007 11:16:00 AM


ThomasLB said...

I have a little post up over at my website about this. LINK

Tuesday, July 10, 2007 12:12:00 PM



Labels: , , ,

6 Comments:

  • At Monday, July 09, 2007 6:29:00 AM , Blogger ThomasLB said...

    This comment is off topic (so you can delete if after you read it and won't hurt my feelings), but I just noticed under Settings / Formatting, at the very bottom of the page, there is an option called "Enable Float Alignment." It says to uncheck the box if you're having formatting problems.

    Have you tried that yet?

     
  • At Monday, July 09, 2007 6:50:00 AM , Blogger ThomasLB said...

    I knew two guys who shared an apartment. One was mentally handicapped, one was physically handicapped. They looked after each other and cared for each other. They weren't gay, they were close like brothers.

    One of them died. His body was stored for a year at the county morgue, then buried in a pauper's grave. Because they were not related, his friend was not allowed to claim the body and give him a funeral and a headstone.

    I wish there was a way for anybody that wanted to call themselves a family to legally accept responsibility for each other.

    When going "by the book" hurts people, that damn book needs to be thrown out!

    Before I boycott UPS, I'm going to write a polite letter asking them to revisit their policy. (That's really just a formality, like playing the national anthem before a baseball game.)

     
  • At Tuesday, July 10, 2007 12:27:00 AM , Blogger Worried said...

    ThomasLB; thank you for the tip re: our blog problems. I do have "no" checked and have ever since I started blogging. Should I check "yes"? I have no idea what to do with the code printed there.

     
  • At Tuesday, July 10, 2007 12:34:00 AM , Blogger Granny said...

    WA, I'll check it on granny and see if it's checked yes or no (providing I can find it).

     
  • At Tuesday, July 10, 2007 11:16:00 AM , Blogger ThomasLB said...

    It should be on "No" if you're having formatting problems, and since you already have it on "No," that wasn't the problem. Rats- I wish it really was that simple.

    Did you get the same email from UPS that I did? Here is the text of it below- they are blaming everything on the Teamster's Union:


    -- -- -- -- -- --
    I saw your post. Hopefully, you'll be openminded to hear the UPS viewpoint and reconsider your opinion about UPS.

    As a matter of corporate policy, UPS currently offers same sex benefits to all non-union employees -- management as well as administrative workers. This includes all such employees in New Jersey, even though the state has failed to recognize gay partners as married spouses. Beyond health care, UPS also offers benefits such as medical leave, pension rights, funeral leave, relocation and transfer benefits. We recently added same-sex benefits as part of a new contract with UPS pilots too.

    UPS doesn't legally have the right to give same sex benefits to Ms. Brazier who is cited in this situation because she is part of the Teamsters and any changes to benefits have to be done as part of the collective bargain process.

    The contact expires in 2008. Absent a law that specifically categorizes same sex partners as married spouses such as in Mass., UPS cannot unilaterally change a union contract to offer same sex benefits. We have already brought up this issue to the Teamsters for consideration.

    The situation regarding Ms. Brazier and her partner is just as disappointing to UPS as it is to them. But for unionized employees, we can only address the issue through the union at contract renewal time.

    Lynnette
    UPS PR

     
  • At Tuesday, July 10, 2007 12:12:00 PM , Blogger ThomasLB said...

    I have a little post up over at my website about this. LINK

     

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