Couple Says Health Coverage Dropped for not Being Gay

March 31, 2009 ( - A heterosexual couple in Washington State is challenging an employer's decision to drop health care coverage for the female, saying it is reverse discrimination.

The Yakima Herald reports that Sharleen Honeycutt and Charles Weems have filed a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Battelle, Weems’ employer, for terminating medical coverage to Honeycutt because the couple is not gay.

Battelle spokesperson Staci West says the company denies violating any federal or state law, and it only extends medical benefits to same-sex domestic partners because they “have no other legal way to obtain health care benefits,” according to the Herald.

Weems, 63, and Honeycutt, 70, met in 2003 and Weems moved into Honeycutt’s home the next year. According to the news report, they thought about getting married but Honeycutt would have lost her monthly Social Security payment from her late husband, who died in 1997.

They discussed the dilemma with Battelle, and claim Battelle officials agreed to extend medical benefits to Honeycutt as long as the couple registered as domestic partners with the city of Olympia, which they did.

In 2007, the state Legislature created domestic partnership laws, granting same-sex couples some of the legal benefits of marriage, and also extended the same option to opposite-sex couples over the age of 62, specifically to let them avoid the loss in Social Security payments.

Since then, more than 5,000 couples have registered with the state, but Weems and Honeycutt never did because they were receiving medical benefits at that time and felt there was no reason to.

In late 2007, the company warned its employees that different-sex partners would stop receiving medical benefits on December 31, 2008. West told the Herald it was “a business decision that weighed several factors, including how it impacted our ability to offer benefits overall to our staff. And so we chose to offer that benefit only to same-sex registered domestic partners.”

In their complaint, Weems and Honeycutt seek reinstatement of the benefits for Honeycutt and an unspecified amount of punitive damages.