Two of Nashville’s largest private employers plan to do away with benefits for domestic partners starting in 2017. Vanderbilt University and hospital chain HCA say they will no longer cover unwed couples. Employers around the nation are changing their policies following the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage.
In a statement, Vanderbilt says the decision to cut domestic partner benefits is based on the Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.
"Because same-sex marriages are now performed and legal in all U.S. states, married same-sex couples are eligible for the same benefits and tax advantages as other married couples," the statement says.
National survey data shows 70 percent of employers are rethinking benefits for unmarried couples in 2017, which gives couples time to get married if they choose.
“You know, our thinking is, we already offer married couples benefits, so why would we continue this?” says Bruce Elliott, who handles HR for the Society for Human Resource Management based in Washington D.C.
Elliott says firms are hyper-focused on insurance costs, even if they don’t have a huge number of employees accepting benefits for a partner.
“Employers are going to evaluate this on a financial savings basis," he says. "But they’re not going to sacrifice those savings if it’s going to hamstring them in terms of recruiting the talent that they need.”
There’s reason to keep coverage for domestic partners beyond competing for talent, says Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project. He says many committed gay couples may not want their relationship to become public record, which would occur if they married. Or some may be non-religious and think of weddings as purely religious ceremonies.
“There could be all kinds of reasons for people not to get married," Sanders says. "But it’s still worthwhile to look at ways to help people cover the ones they love.”
Along with Vanderbilt and HCA, Bridgestone Americas will no longer offer domestic partner benefits, according to a spokesperson. Nissan North America declined to make its plans public.
Some companies don't have any changes to make. Saint Thomas Health and Cracker Barrel didn't offer domestic partner benefits even before the marriage equality ruling.
Metro government and Metro Schools only recently began offering benefits for domestic partners following a 2014 ordinance, and they plan to continue. Spokesmen note that the number of beneficiaries is small — just 75 for the city — and roughly half are straight couples.