GW declines to pay extra medical tax for same-sex couples

Correction appended.

The University has no plans to reimburse employees in domestic partnerships for extra taxes they pay for medical coverage, despite a flurry this month of colleges and businesses opting to cover the added expense.

Domestic partnership health coverage is counted as taxable income by the federal government, making recipients of those benefits pay additional fees because – unlike their heterosexual counterparts with federally-recognized marital status – their unions are not legally recognized. The University offers domestic partnership plans, but does not cover the expense of the federal tax.

Beginning this January, Columbia and Yale universities and Barnard College joined a growing list of organizations that reimburse their employees for the extra cost.

In the business sector, Google, Apple, Facebook and Teach for America are among the companies that already reimburse domestic partners for the $1,200 to $1,500 tax, The New York Times reported Jan. 11. This month, Bank of America, Microsoft and Ernst & Young also expanded their benefit packages to include tax compensation.

The growing list of employers that reimburse the tax signals a trend to equalize the playing field among heterosexual and gay professionals in higher education.

University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard declined to say why the University does not reimburse the tax, but maintained that GW complies with existing federal tax laws.

“GW extends benefits to both same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners. We currently do not reimburse additional tax costs incurred by domestic partners in their health plans,” she said.

Benefit policies are reviewed each summer and no plans have been made as to what benefits will be considered this year, she said.

GW expanded its medical benefits last year to include support for opposite-sex domestic partners so unmarried couples in committed relationships could receive the same benefits as married couples. These couples are subject to the extra tax on benefits. The District and six states permit gay marriage, while 10 others allow domestic partnerships.

Compensating employees for these taxes is known in human resources lingo as “grossing up,” which helps “to level the playing field for gay and lesbian couples,” Michael Cole-Schwartz, director of media relations for the Human Rights Campaign, said.

The LGBT-rights organization “encourages all employers to not only offer these benefits but to also ensure there aren’t additional financial barriers to taking advantage of them,” Cole-Schwartz said of the tax.

“GW should reevaluate [reimbursing the tax] because it would aid in maintaining equitable health and promoting diversity within the GW community,” Dana Tai Soon Burgess, a gay professor who heads the Department of Theatre and Dance, said.

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This story was updated at 12:35 p.m. to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported in an earlier version of this story that married gay couples were not subjected to the same federal taxes as those in domestic partnerships. In fact, neither union is recognized by the federal government and all gay couples must pay the additional tax when receiving healthcare benefits from their partners.

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