Mayo: Same-sex partners must marry to keep benefit

The Mayo Clinic says its Minnesota employees who are in same-sex domestic partnerships will have to get married if they want their partners to remain eligible for health insurance -- now that the state has legalized same-sex marriage.

Mayo Clinic spokesman Bryan Anderson told the Rochester Post-Bulletin that the clinic hasn't yet determined the deadline for same-sex couples to get married. Same-sex marriages will be legal in Minnesota as of 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.

The Mayo Clinic has offered benefits to same-sex domestic partners since 2000. The Mayo Clinic does not provide benefits for opposite-sex couples in domestic partnerships. In June, the Mayo Clinic sent out an email to employees in domestic partnerships to notify them of the change.

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Mayo's policy would be a first among large companies, said Paul Guequierre, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch, 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.

Guequierre said a key concern is that couples who are forced to marry in Minnesota to get health benefits might move to state where their marriage is not recognized.

"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.

Austin-based Hormel Foods is going a different route. The company hasn't offered same-sex domestic partner benefits before, but will begin to do so starting Jan. 1 -- whether a couple is married or not.

That means an employee who marries a same-sex partner before Jan. 1 might have to wait for the new year before benefits become available. Hormel Foods said it is looking for guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service and will make adjustments if necessary.

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