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Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships: Desperately Seeking "Support"

Matt Coles,
Former Deputy Legal Director and Director of Center for Equality
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July 16, 2008

You’ve probably heard that the there have been problems in states that have adopted “Civil Unions” and “Domestic Partnerships.” Here are two real world examples, one an annoyance and the other much more than that.

Jason Smith and Settimio Pisu

Item one. Jason Smith and Settimio Pisu have a Connecticut Civil Union. They decided to use H&R Block’s online service to file their taxes. But when they tried to fill out the forms, they got a pop up screen telling them “We don’t support Connecticut Civil Union Returns.” They could, the online service explained, file a return by going into an H&R Block office. And pay four times as much.

We had a little conversation with the “world’s preeminent tax services provider.” From now on, they will support Connecticut Civil Union returns. For the balance of this year, H&R Block changed their website to allow taxpayers in civil unions to prepare their tax returns online at the same cost as for married couples, and have provided a free online support specialist to help folks complete the papers. $100 coupons or free tax software for 2008 taxes are available at for all couples, both from Connecticut and elsewhere, who incurred additional expense.


Item two. We’re working with two guys who moved from New Jersey to Idaho last year. One, Ralph Martinelli, works for Konica Minolta, which claims to include the partners of employees who have domestic partnerships in its health plan. Martinelli’s partner, Robert Ryan, escaped from the south tower of the World Trade Center on September 11. The dust gave him an asthma problem and the disaster gave him depression. They decided to move to Idaho, hoping the fresh start would help with Robert’s depression.

Konica approved the transfer and they moved to a small town outside Boise. They loved the place. And then Konica let Robert know he was going to be kicked off the health plan. Konica is interpreting its health plan to require employees to register as domestic partners in the state where they live. That wasn’t a problem as long as the couple lived in New Jersey. They had been registered domestic partners there since 2005. But there are no domestic partnership registries in Idaho, meaning there is no way for the couple to comply with the Konica’s interpretation of the plan. So far, we’ve been unable to convince Konica to change course. Understandably, the possibility that something like this could happen never occurred to Ralph and Robert. But as long as some states recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships and some do not, things like this will keep happening.