UPS and”Marriage”by Any Other Name

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Many people:both gay and straight:think that same-sex couples should settle for civil unions or domestic partnerships and shouldn’t bother fighting for marriage.   After all, if you already have all of the rights and obligations of marriage, what’s so important about calling your legal relationship a civil union or a domestic partnership rather than a marriage?

Evidencing the real importance of the name given to same-sex legal relationships, Lambda Legal recently announced that, following the enactment of New Jersey’s civil union regime, UPS drew an important distinction between its employees who had entered into same-sex marriages in Massachusetts and those who had entered into civil unions in New Jersey: The Massachusetts employees were allowed to add their spouses to their health coverage, but the New Jersey employees were not allowed to do so. The reason:according to UPS, the Massachusetts couples were legal”spouses”because they were”married,”but the New Jersey couples were not legal”spouses”because they were not”married,”just parties to a civil union. Naturally, this distinction will entail serious financial and medical consequences for UPS’ lesbian and gay employees in New Jersey.

So, those who think that the word”marriage”doesn’t matter should think again.

-Anthony C. Infanti

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0 Responses to UPS and”Marriage”by Any Other Name

  1. lynnette says:

    A clarification: UPS does indeed provide benefits to domestic partners. Some of the media you may have seen is not giving the full picture.

    As a matter of corporate policy, UPS currently offers same sex
    benefits to all non-union employees — management as well as
    administrative workers. This includes all such employees in New
    Jersey, even though the state has failed to recognize same-sex partners as married spouses. Beyond health care, UPS also offers benefits such as medical leave, pension rights, funeral leave, relocation and transfer
    benefits. We recently added same-sex benefits as part of a new union
    contract with UPS pilots too.

    UPS doesn’t legally have the right to give same sex benefits to
    package car drivers (like Ms. Brazier who was cited in some of the
    media reports) because she is part of the Teamsters and any changes to
    benefits have to be done as part of the collective bargain process.
    The contact expires in 2008. Absent a law that specifically
    categorizes same sex partners as married spouses such as in Mass., UPS cannot unilaterally change a union contract to offer same sex
    benefits.

    We have already brought up this issue to the Teamsters for consideration.

    The situation regarding Ms. Brazier and her partner is just as
    disappointing to UPS as it is to them. But for unionized employees, we
    can only address the issue through the union at contract renewal time.
    Hopefully, this will help you feel better about doing business with UPS.
    >
    > Sincerely,
    > Lynnette McIntire
    > UPS Public Relations.
    >
    >

  2. Anthony Infanti says:

    I wonder, however, how UPS justifies its actions given the prohibition in New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination against employment discrimination on the basis of civil union status.

  3. Anthony Infanti says:

    To follow up on my last comment, I expect that UPS might argue that ERISA pre-empts New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, as it mentions ERISA in passing in its letter. But, just as ERISA may pre-empt New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, it also has been argued to pre-empt Massachusetts’ extension of the right to marry to same-sex couples (several Massachusetts employers have, in fact, declined to provide benefits on this ground). In essence, then, it appears that UPS has voluntarily chosen to extend benefits to married same-sex couples in Massachusetts under its contract with the union, but to narrowly interpret the New Jersey civil union law, which is meant to provide a status equivalent to marriage and, indeed, includes a provision that specifies that any reference to “marriage” or “spouse” in New Jersey law includes parties to a civil union. N.J. Rev. Stat. sec. 37:1-33.

  4. There is, of course, another reason to create a legally recognized union that’s not called marriage: plenty of feminist couples would opt for that choice rather than boycotting marriage or trying to convert marriage into something else. My husband I, for one, would have chosen a civil union rather than a marriage if we’d had that option.

  5. Pingback: Feminist Law Professors » Blog Archive » Update on UPS and Spousal Benefits