Montana Domestic Partner Benefit Bill Tabled

February 26, 2003 ( - Montana's House State Administration Committee has tabled a bill to extend employees' health benefits to domestic partners.

House Bill 629, introduced by Representative Rosie Buzzas, would mandate the state, the university system, cities, towns, counties and school districts to extend health insurance benefits to domestic partners of covered employees.   But critics were quick to object, saying such a measure would escalate insurance rates, degrade the sanctity of marriage, and give special treatment to gays and lesbians, according to a repot by the Billings Gazette.

However, to quell opponent fears, the bill made a distinction between requiring employers to provide benefits to domestic partners and recognizing such a partnership as a state sanctioned civil union.   Additionally, exemptions from compliance were written in the proposed law for religious employers that included churches, private schools, and religious hospitals.

Proponents: Bill Means ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’

Proponents argued that that special treatment was never part of the deal, just “equal pay for equal work,” Buzzas told the Gazette.   Additionally, supporters pointed out that it does not just apply to gay or lesbian couples, but to unmarried heterosexual couples as well.

Among the backers was Karl Olson, director of the gay right organization PRIDE.   He contended that as much as 40% of an employee’s average compensation comes from benefits.

Additionally, Buzzas citied studies by the Society for Human Resource Management that found 85% of respondents reported no increase in health care costs after extending benefits to domestic partners.   Using this data, supporters said Montana is losing out on attracting an educated, talented workforce by not offering such benefits.