Ruling from the Bench, Judge Lifts Georgia Ban on DP Health Benefits
Lambda helps overturn sweeping restriction by state insurance commissioner
(ATLANTA, September 22, 1999) -- A Fulton County judge wasted little time at a hearing Wednesday and firmly rebuked Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine's attempts to block implementation of Atlanta's domestic partner ordinance, ordering him to lift his statewide ban on domestic partner coverage in insurance policies, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said.
Lambda represented Atlanta Councilmember Cathy Woolard, who intervened in the lawsuit brought initially by the City of Atlanta. Lambda Staff Attorney Stephen R. Scarborough, who argued on Woolard's behalf, said after the hearing, "After years of frustrating delays, this ruling stands to provide great relief to many Georgia families. What's more, the Court adamantly rejected Commissioner Oxendine's view that non-marital relationships should be branded 'immoral.'"
Following the argument on summary judgment motion in City of Atlanta v. Oxendine, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy L. Shoob used strong words to admonish the commissioner's actions, saying they were unlawful, "outside the scope of his authority," and "an abuse of discretion."
The judge's ruling removes a long-standing ban on health insurance polices that include domestic partner coverage. Wednesday's action opens the way for insurers to write policies that provide domestic partner coverage for Georgia workers employed by both public and private entities.
Said Woolard, "With the insurance restrictions out of the way, the City of Atlanta can move forward with its attempts to provide equitable health benefits to city workers. Judge Shoob did the right thing. Lesbians, gay men, and our families throughout the state can now breathe a sigh of relief."
Since 1995, Oxendine had refused to approve any insurance policy providing for domestic partners, despite a 1997 Georgia Supreme Court ruling in City of Atlanta v. Morgan allowing the City to offer benefits to the partners of City workers who qualify as "dependents." Lambda participated as a friend of the court in the Morgan case.
Woolard, who represents Atlanta Council District 6, seeks health coverage for her partner of 11 years, Karen Geney. Represented by Lambda, Woolard joined the City's suit brought after Oxendine rejected a domestic partner provision in a policy written by United HealthCare of Georgia. Senior Assistant City Attorney Robin Shahar argued on behalf of the City.
Across the country, more than 2,000 public and private employers like IBM, Microsoft, Time-Warner, United Airlines, and the City of Chicago already offer domestic partner benefits in order to promote fairness and help attract the most qualified workers.
Lambda is the nation's oldest and largest legal organization serving lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS. With headquarters in New York, Lambda also has offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Contact: Stephen R. Scarborough 404-897-1880 x 23; Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 pager