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NYCLU Sues Insurance Company for Denying Coverage to Married Lesbian Couple

Matt Faiella,
New York Civil Liberties Union
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August 6, 2008

The New York Civil Liberties Union recently filed a lawsuit against Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Western New York on behalf of a married lesbian couple who were denied spousal health care coverage by the insurance company. While the insurance company provides spousal health care coverage for the different-sex spouses of employees at a school district, it refused to do so for the same-sex spouses of school district employees. This means that our clients, who have been together for over ten years and have a one-year-old daughter, must live without the security of having full family health insurance. One of the parents in the family has been categorically excluded from eligibility for the plan.

In our complaint, we argue that the insurance company’s refusal to grant coverage to the lesbian couple constitutes both a breach of the insurance company’s contract with the school district and employees of the district, as well as discrimination under the state’s anti-discrimination law, which protects people from being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. This case builds upon a case the NYCLU won in February called Martinez v. County of Monroe, which holds that same-sex couples’ valid, out-of-state marriages must be recognized in New York and an employer’s failure to grant equal spousal benefits to a married same-sex couple constitutes unlawful sexual orientation discrimination under the state’s anti-discrimination law.

I’m proud that the NYCLU advocates on behalf of families to ensure they are able to protect themselves with things like spousal health insurance coverage. I’m saddened, however, that we must perform this kind of advocacy. Employer-sponsored health care plans play a crucial role in protecting families. Yet homophobia has blocked this coverage in my state and others. Loving families pay the price. It’s a shame these issues require litigation. Fairness and common sense should be sufficient to ensure all families receive the protection of health insurance.

I hope that, at a minimum, our lawsuit against Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Western New York puts other insurers on notice that homophobia cannot guide their decisions on whether to provide families protections as vital as health care coverage. I also hope that our case and similar cases will help all Americans understand that protecting families—whether gay or straight—makes us all safer and more secure.

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