Domestic partner benefits remain popular but present challenges 

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July 11, 2023

The US Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (135 S. Ct. 2071), which made same-sex marriage legal nationwide, appears to have had little effect on domestic partner benefits. Most states with domestic partnership registries before 2015 continue to provide registrations, and surveys indicate that employers continue to offer domestic partner benefits. Despite the acceptance and prevalence of domestic partner benefits, complex legal, tax, administration and other compliance issues come with the territory. Employers need to understand and effectively communicate these issues to employees with domestic partners. 

This GRIST summarizes major issues involving domestic partner benefits, provides a tax-dependent flowchart and a domestic partner checklist for employers, and includes two charts summarizing applicable state laws. Download the 18-page print-friendly PDF for full coverage. Here are highlights of topics covered.

Domestic partner benefit practices and issues

Survey. Mercer’s 2021 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans showed that 53% of employers with 500 or more employees offer domestic partner benefits, roughly the same percentage as in 2014:


Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Every year, the Human Rights Campaign issues the Corporate Equality Index (CEI), a national benchmarking tool on corporate policies, practices and benefits pertinent to LGBTQ employees. Domestic partner coverage is one of the criteria affecting an employer’s overall CEI rating. The CEI specifically requires equivalency in same- and different-sex domestic partner medical, family formation, and other benefits, including adoption assistance, fertility coverage, foster care assistance and surrogacy.

Key issues. Beyond those considerations, employers must communicate to their eligible workforce the differences between a spouse and a domestic partner under federal and state laws and apply those differences in administering benefit plan provisions. As discussed in the full article, differences arise primarily in these areas:

  • State recognition of domestic partnerships and other types of relationships, and related insurance coverage mandates for recognized relationships
  • Taxation of benefits (for nontax dependents)
  • HSAs and high-deductible health plans
  • Other federal laws, including continuation coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, unpaid leave rights under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, and military leave protections under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act
  • Government-contracting requirements mandating domestic partner coverage
  • Wellness programs for spouses/domestic partners
  • Documentation, such as certification of relationship, declaration of tax status or termination of relationship
  • Medicare
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