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Mayo Clinic employees must marry to keep getting same-sex partner benefits

Mayo Clinic's Minnesota employees who are in same-sex domestic partnerships will have to get married in order for their partner to continue to be eligible for health insurance, a result of Minnesota's legalization of same-sex marriage .

Mayo Clinic spokesman Bryan Anderson said the deadline for these couples to get married has yet to be determined. Same-sex marriage in Minnesota becomes legal on Thursday.

"Mayo has long had a policy providing same-sex domestic partner benefits because those affected were not allowed to be married. That policy notes that marriage would be required if same-sex marriage became legal in the state where the couple lives," Anderson said in a statement.

Mayo's policy would be a first among large companies, said Paul Guequierre, a spokesman for Human Rights Campaign , a national gay-rights group.

"We have heard companies consider doing this. We have not heard of any companies that have actually done this and from our perspective it is a bad idea to require them to marry," he said.


The biggest concern is that couples are forced to marry in Minnesota in order to get health benefits could end up moving to another state where same-sex marriage is not recognized. Guequierre said there are no federal protections in place to prevent someone for being fired based on sexual orientation. As a result, some individuals may feel they need to keep their sexual orientation a secret, which would be more difficult if they got married in Minnesota.

"I don't think (Mayo Clinic's) intentions are bad. We would certainly understand why a company would think would be an appropriate route, but I think when you put a little thought into it, it's not necessarily the best for the employee," he said.

Same-sex domestic partnerships

Mayo Clinic has offered same-sex domestic partnership benefits to its employees since 2000. Those benefits are also available for its employees in Florida and Arizona , where same-sex marriage is not legal. Mayo Clinic does not provide benefits for opposite-sex couples in domestic partnerships. In June, Mayo Clinic sent out an email to employees in domestic partnerships to alert them to the requirement that they marry to continue receiving benefits.

News of the new policy caught Vangie Castro by surprise. Her partner works at Mayo Clinic and they rely on the clinic for health insurance. Castro, who lives in Rochester, said they wanted to be able to take their time planning a wedding and not feel rushed into it because of health benefits.

"It's not that we're not going to get married. We'd just like to take our time," she said.

Changes at Hormel

Meanwhile, Austin-based Hormel Foods has taken a different approach. The company has not offered same-sex domestic partner benefits in the past, but will begin offering them starting Jan. 1 — whether a couple is legally married in the state or not.


"In support of our company's commitment to diversity and inclusion, effective January 1, 2014, Hormel Foods is expanding the benefits for immediate family to include domestic partners and their eligible dependents," according to a Hormel Foods spokesman.

That means an employee who marries his or her same-sex partner before Jan. 1 may have to wait for the new year before benefits become available. Hormel Foods did say it is "continuing to monitor for further guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor and the IRS and will adjust accordingly if necessary."

For most Rochester businesses, the legalization of same-sex marriage hasn't proven to be a big logistical challenge, said Angela Lee, legislative chairwoman for the Rochester Human Resources Association .

Often, it's just a matter of businesses enrolling same-sex couples in their benefit plans and making them eligible for family medical leave. That's been the case at Samaritan Bethany in Rochester, where Lee is human resources director. The company is leaving it up to its employees to notify them if they are eligible for benefits to avoid making assumptions about an individual's sexual orientation, which could violate the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

"It's kind of a delicate issue," she said. "But we certainly want to encourage our staff that would be eligible to be married to do so if they want and we'll make benefits available to them if they so choose."

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