For Consumers

Washington state officials: Health benefits must be provided to same-sex spouses if provided to opposite-sex spouses

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June 5, 2014

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler and Human Rights Commission Executive Director Sharon Ortiz today released a joint letter to Washington state employers, insurance companies and benefit plan administrators regarding healthcare benefits.

The agencies have learned that some health plans have provided dependent coverage for opposite-sex spouses of employees or other insureds, but failed to provide the same coverage to same-sex spouses. This practice violates Washington state law. If healthcare benefits are provided to opposite-sex spouses, they must be provided to same-sex spouses on an equal basis.  Which state laws apply and whether there are any exceptions may depend on specific circumstances. 

Ferguson, Kreidler and Ortiz issued the joint letter to ensure clarity regarding the laws relating to marriage equality and healthcare coverage for same-sex spouses in Washington state. The AGO, HRC and OIC are charged with protecting Washington residents from unfair or discriminatory practices.

The release of this letter comes on the heels of the recent investigation of O’Reilly Automotive Inc. that resulted in the company’s agreement to extend health benefits to same-sex spouses.

“The Attorney General’s Office will work to protect the legal rights of all Washington residents and enforce state laws prohibiting discrimination,” said Ferguson. “If an employer provides benefits to opposite-sex spouses, it must provide the same benefits to same-sex spouses.”

“Most health insurers doing business in our state understand they cannot discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation,” said Kreidler. “But we’re taking this extra step today to ensure they understand their responsibility to do due diligence when selling insurance policies in Washington.”

“The Washington State Human Rights Commission works to prevent and eliminate discrimination,” said Ortiz. “Discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal under the law.The Commission has jurisdiction over insurance discrimination and is prepared to receive complaints for investigation.We will work in partnership with the Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the Insurance Commission to resolve these issues.”

For more detailed information on Washington state law surrounding this issue read the Frequently Asked Questions, here.

Background on same-sex marriage laws in Washington state

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been unlawful in the State of Washington since 2006.

In 2012, the Washington State Legislature approved Senate Bill 6239, legalizing same-sex marriage. Opponents garnered enough signatures to refer the measure to voters. Voters approved Referendum 74 by nearly 54 percent at the November 2012 election — making Washington one of the first three states to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote.

Same-sex marriage is lawful in 19 states and the District of Columbia.