Health Insurance for Unmarried Partners
Generally, and unfortunately, if an employer offers health insurance coverage to the spouses of employees, it usually doesn't extend the coverage to unmarried partners too. Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), employers are not required to offer health insurance to any employees, spouses, or "domestic partners" (this term is often used to include same sex couples and unmarried opposite-sex couples, as well as common law marriages). ERISA also does not compel employers that provide health insurance for employees and legal dependents to extend coverage to domestic partners.
Nevertheless, thousands of employers across the country have begun offering domestic partner health insurance benefits in the last several years, and the number continues to grow. Employment experts predict that this trend will continue, as small companies start to follow the lead of large employers that have introduced domestic partner benefit plans in recent months.
In addition, some state and local laws have recently been passed in favor of domestic partner rights. San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle have ordinances requiring all businesses with municipal contracts to offer same-sex benefits if they offer benefits for married couples. Vermont recently enacted the country's first "civil union" law, which grants same-sex couples nearly all of the benefits to which the state's married couples are entitled. Provisions regarding health insurance are still being written, and it is not yet known what they will entail.