Massachusetts' Domestic Partnership Challenge: Hope for a Better Future
13 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2011 Last revised: 28 Dec 2011
Date Written: December 15, 2000
Acknowledging that its decision means that "some household members" may be without a "critical social necessity," the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled in Connors v. City of Boston that Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino's executive order granting health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of city employees could not stand in the face of a Massachusetts state insurance law. In Connors, the SJC simultaneously recognized that although the demographics of Massachusetts households have changed within the more than forty years since the state insurance law, G.L. c. 32B (Chapter 32B), was adopted, that law nevertheless constrains municipalities from extending health insurance benefits to the full range of household members who rely on city employees for their support. In other words, despite the court's recognition that families come in different forms, it decided it could not, as a technical matter, uphold a municipality's grant of benefits to non-traditional families where the legislature has failed to incorporate a contemporary definition of family into its state insurance law. The decision is an unfortunate departure from the general home rule authority jurisprudence of the Commonwealth, which, by constitutional amendment, makes local control the rule, rather than the exception. Although its reach is in one sense narrow -- the ruling has no effect on either domestic partnership benefits provided by private employers or municipal domestic partner benefits other than group health insurance -- it is in another sense very significant in that it strictly defines persons for whom cities and towns can expend funds to provide group health insurance benefits. The Author concludes that regardless of what political response the court's decision elicits, several things are clear in the aftermath of Connors. Hundreds of people throughout the Commonwealth have lost group health insurance coverage, coverage that is routinely provided to families of city workers as long as they are legal spouses, but is not provided to domestic partners. In its decision, the court pointed out the negative social consequences of this loss. It identified the problem, and it also identified its source and solution. The rest is up to the people and their representatives.
Keywords: domestic partnership, nontraditional families, Massachusetts, health insurance, benefits, sexuality and the law
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