Facing NYCLU Lawsuit, Insurance Company Agrees to Provide Spousal Benefits to Married Same-Sex Couples

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July 28, 2008 —  Less than three weeks after the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Western New York for denying spousal health care benefits to a validly married lesbian couple, the health insurance company has announced it will begin covering married same-sex couples.

“We applaud Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Western New York for following the law and treating all married couples the same,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. “Families who were denied coverage up until this point will now be able to protect themselves with health care coverage.”

The lawsuit, filed on July 9 in Erie County Supreme Court, followed the NYCLU’s landmark legal victory in Martinez v. County of Monroe, in which an appeals court unanimously ruled that New York State must recognize the valid out-of-state marriages of lesbian and gay couples.

In February, Jeanne Kornowicz, a school psychologist at the Cheektowaga Central School District, asked her employer to provide health coverage for her wife, Joy Higgins, after she learned of the NYCLU’s victory in Martinez. The couple has been together for a decade and was validly married in Canada in 2006. Higgins gave birth to the couple’s daughter, Elizabeth Higgins, in July 2007, and Kornowicz’s second-parent adoption of Elizabeth was made final in January of this year.

The school district quickly sought to grant Kornowicz’s request for spousal coverage, fully aware that the Martinez decision required recognition of the couple’s marriage. Despite the school district’s multiple demands that Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Western New York grant Kornowicz’s request for spousal coverage, the insurance company refused to comply with the law as articulated in Martinez, or with the terms of its contract with the district and its obligations to provide spousal coverage. Many other New York insurers, including other insurers carrying the Blue Cross & Blue Shield name, have been recognizing same-sex couples’ valid out-of-state marriages for years.

“As spouses and parents, Jeanne and Joy deserve the same protections that every other family in New York State enjoys,” NYCLU Staff Attorney Matt Faiella said. “We’re so relieved for their family that they will finally know some peace of mind.”

Serving as counsel on the case are Matt Faiella, Palyn Hung, Arthur Eisenberg, Christopher Dunn and cooperating attorney Richard Lipsitz.