Louisiana Appeals Court Upholds Ruling Safeguarding Health Insurance Benefits for Same-Sex Partners of City Employees
(New Orleans, December 20, 2005) — In a ruling made public yesterday, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Circuit of Louisiana upheld a lower court ruling protecting New Orleans’ Domestic Partnership Registry and health insurance benefits for domestic partners of the city’s employees after a legal attack from the Alliance Defense Fund, an antigay legal group.
“We’re gratified that fairness prevailed in this case and that gay and lesbian employees of the City of New Orleans can breathe easier knowing that their domestic partners will remain covered by their health insurance as they rebuild this great city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,” said Brian Chase, staff attorney and lead attorney on the case for Lambda Legal. “This ruling is not only good for our clients, but good for the city of New Orleans since it helps the city remain competitive in attracting and keeping gay and lesbian employees during these difficult times.”
In 1997, the City of New Orleans extended health insurance benefits to same-sex partners of city employees. In 1999, the City Council created a domestic partner registry that allows couples to make a public commitment to care for and support each other. The domestic partner benefits policy and the city’s domestic partner registry came under attack through a lawsuit brought by the antigay Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). At the city’s request, Lambda Legal joined the lawsuit, known as Ralph v. City of New Orleans, representing city employee Peter Sabi and his partner, Philip Centanni Jr. In May 2004, a lower court dismissed ADF’s lawsuit against New Orleans, and that decision was upheld in the ruling made public yesterday.
Even while lauding the victory in the New Orleans case, Lambda Legal is gearing up to take on the Alliance Defense Fund in another lawsuit challenging domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples. ADF recently sued Miami University—a public university in Ohio—claiming that the university’s program providing benefits to the same-sex partners of university employees violates Ohio’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a man and a woman. On December 13, Lambda Legal moved to intervene in that case on behalf of two university professors who are participating in the challenged program and would lose health benefits for their families if the lawsuit succeeds. One professor, Jean Lynch, has worked for the university since 1988 and has been in a committed relationship with her partner, Helenka Marculewicz, for those 17 years. Earlier this year Marculewicz relied on the health benefits ADF seeks to invalidate in order to cover knee replacement surgery. The other professor, Yvonne Keller, has worked at Miami University for 7 years. She and her partner, Susan Gray, have two infant children; they have relied on the challenged health benefits for medical care for their children. Miami University is located in Oxford, Ohio; it has more than 16,000 students. The university has offered health care benefits to eligible faculty and staff to cover their same-sex domestic partners since July 1, 2004.
On Wednesday, December 21, Lambda Legal will launch a series of “banner ads” on websites and blogs in order to increase awareness in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community about the case and the growing threats to domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples.