BUCKFIELD — Selectmen could have violated state statute by denying insurance coverage to employees’ domestic partners.
At the Tuesday, Nov. 1 selectmen’s meeting, Town Manager Cindy Dunn told selectmen an employee wanted to add his domestic partner to his insurance so the partner could get dental insurance, which would be 100 percent paid by the employee. Selectmen have to approve the expanded insurance option for it to take effect and it would only be made available to eligible employees, she said.
“The type of policy … we’ve chosen is only eligible to married couples. If the board wants to include or add domestic partners, same sex or otherwise, you can do that,” Dunn said. “It doesn’t change anything by the way premiums are paid. If it’s a family plan, it’s 50/50 [paid by the employee/paid by the town].”
Selectmen Chairman Warren Wright began talking about the history of Maine and federal same sex marriage laws.
“If you are a same sex couple, you can get married today,” he said.
“I don’t think that is relative to this issue Warren,” Dunn responded.
Selectman Maida DeMers-Dobson made a motion to extend insurance benefits to domestic partners, which did not receive a second and died on the floor.
Under the Maine Insurance Code, there is a mandated domestic partners benefits section.
It reads, “All individual health insurance policies or contracts issued by any insurer operating pursuant to this chapter must make available to policyholders the option for additional benefits for the domestic partner of a policyholder, at appropriate rates and under the same terms and conditions as those benefits or options for benefits are provided to spouses of married policyholders.”
Resident Vivian Wadas referenced the town’s Personnel Policies & Procedures Handbook, which has an equal employment opportunity/affirmative action provision.
“I believe for the entire town there is a nondiscrimination policy,” she said. “Whether you are same sex domestic partner or heterosexual domestic partner, I think [not allowing coverage] potentially could fall under discrimination.”
“It hasn’t happened,” Wright responded. “You don’t want to set a precedent.”
DeMers-Dobson said there’s litigation on the subject that allows domestic partners to be covered under insurance. Former Selectmen Chair Cheryl Coffman said she works for one of the largest employers in Lewiston-Auburn and “it’s standard acceptance” for domestic partners to be on insurance policies.
Wright said covering domestic partners is an expense “and all they have to do is get married.”
“It is not an expense. … It doesn’t cost us a cent but [not offering] it does make us look like screaming bigots,” DeMers-Dobson said.
“I think this is an unfortunate decision for you two gentlemen to have made,” she said to her colleagues Wright and Selectman Mike Iveson about not extending insurance coverage for domestic partners.
Dunn wanted to know why an employee or their domestic partner should be punished for not being married.
“Because that’s the way it works, you’ve got to be married, because you could have a girlfriend and next week have another girlfriend,” Wright said. “It’s too hard to control.”
The town’s insurance policy will remain as is for the time being, Dunn said.
Wadas requested Dunn research the issue, including contacting Maine Municipal Association, to see if this could be a discrimination case. Dunn agreed and will report back to selectmen.