Benefits expanded to married same-sex couples

Effective for the 2013 school year, Macalester is now able to recognize equal insurance benefits for same-sex partners of staff and faculty members without tax penalties.

On May 14, Minnesota voted to legalize same-sex marriage, which made the change in policy possible.

“From a benefits perspective, nothing has changed,” said Director of Employment Services Bob Graf. “From a community perspective, the evolution of the law to recognize our friends and colleagues, previously excluded, is very satisfying.”

For affected employees, “Macalester has provided same-sex benefits coverage for years,” said Graf. However, prior to the passing of the law, the benefits for same-sex dependents, which included spouses, children, and other individuals that they had legal guardianship over, were not tax-exempt.

“Prior to the passing of the new law, health insurance coverage for opposite-sex dependents was a tax exempt benefit, while the same benefit coverage for same-sex partnerships was taxable in the eyes of the law,” Graf said.

This means that prior to the law’s passing, Macalester paid the difference in order to make the benefits equal. Following August 1, the law recognized same-sex partnerships as also being tax exempt.

“Macalester no longer is in a position where it needs to pay the tax liability,” Graf said, noting that since the changes were more at the institutional level, employees would really experience no difference in insurance as related to cost or coverage.

Carleton College and the University of Minnesota are among other schools who have also updated their policies to match the recent law. Like Macalester, Carleton already provided same-sex benefits for both same and opposite sex domestic partners for years.

“The major advantage is that we now are able to treat all married couples equally and can remove the additional tax burden for same-sex married couples,” said Carleton’s Director of Human Resources Kerstin Cárdenas.

The U of M had a more complicated situation. According to the University’s Guide for UPlan Benefits Enrollment,” dependents need to be “legally married” to a university employee in order for them to be “qualified” for benefits.

UPlan defines same-sex dependents in a domestic relationship as “usually non-qualified.” In an email to UPlan members, U of M Vice President Kathy Brown wrote that although same-sex domestic partners could be covered for health, dental and life coverage, as of Dec. 31, 2014, the option will no longer be available since benefits are now available to same-sex spouses.

The U of M Human Resources website further explains that the change in policy “is consistent with the benefits offerings for opposite-sex couples,” making both same and opposite sex offerings equal under the insurance.

“Schools tend to do their own thing based on the unique cultures and priorities that exist at each institution,” Graf said, saying that he had been in conversation with other schools about the passage of the law.

When asked if Macalester had looked at other schools as examples for insurance policy changes, Graf said, “with respect to the benefits impacted by this law, Macalester was already a leader in this market.”

The benefits available for same-sex partners of Macalester employees include health, dental, flexible spending plans and health savings account benefits. For confidentiality reasons, Macalester staff members were unavailable to comment on the policy update.

Following Aug. 1, the tax exempt status of same-sex benefits “retroactively took effect for the entire year of 2013,” Graf said. While the benefits to staff members and their dependents has remained virtually unchanged in the long run, Graf was proud of the recognition afforded to those affected by the passage of the law.

“I suspect the real impact for Macalester colleagues…is the recognition of equality and respect that is long overdue,” he said.