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Big 3 Auto Makers Grant Domestic Partner Benefits

AMERICA'S big three auto makers announced today that they will begin granting domestic partner benefits.

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In a joint statement, General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler said they would offer health care coverage to same sex partners of their US employees.

The announcement was heralded by rights groups as a major step forward.

"This is a landmark announcement," declared Kim I. Mills, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Education Director who oversees WorkNet, the organization's workplace project. "Never before have we seen virtually an entire industry, along with its leading union, announce domestic partner benefits simultaneously.  And the fact that these are three of the largest companies in America, with hundreds of thousands of employees, demonstrates that domestic partner benefits are becoming a standard business practice."

"Because benefits comprise nearly 40 percent of an employee's overall compensation, domestic partner benefits is a major step toward promoting equality in the workplace," said Elizabeth Toledo, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "Today we celebrate the fact that one of the nation's bedrock industries has joined the fight for basic fairness," she added.

"These companies represent perhaps the largest private-sector employment pool in the country, so the ramifications of the policies will be widespread," said Jeffrey Montgomery, Executive Director of the Triangle Foundation in Detroit.

The decision to offer the benefits came after a pledge to study the subject that was part of current United Auto Workers and other labour union contracts, according to the auto companies and the UAW.

To qualify for benefits, employees will have to meet certain criteria, which include being in a committed relationship with a partner of the same-sex for no less than six months.

"Domestic partner benefits are one of the strongest signals a company can give to demonstrate that it values its lesbian and gay employees," continued Ms. Mills.

More than 3,400 private and public employers provide these benefits to their employees, according to the HRC.  Since the beginning of this year, an average of nine employers have announced these benefits each week, according to HRC's WorkNet, which tracks such trends.

With today's announcement, at least 97 Fortune 500 companies provide these benefits or have announced that they intend to.  Additionally, more than half of the Fortune 500 include sexual orientation in their written non-discrimination policy.

The big three auto makers' statement said that offering the benefits to same-sex domestic partners demonstrates that they're committed to diversity in the workplace.  They also said it's important from a competitive standpoint.

Ms. Toledo of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force agreed.

"Our definition of family is changing and the reality of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families today is what makes domestic partner benefits necessary," she said.  "Employers that recognize the evolving needs of their workforce by offering domestic partner benefits will be able to recruit and retain the best employees and will ensure that their employees' health and well-being outside of the workplace is maintained."

Added Mr. Montgomery, "This development could not have taken place without the active and dedicated work of employee groups within the auto companies, working to educate management and co-workers about the unique issues of gays and lesbians in the workplace, such as Ford GLOBE, People of Diversity and GMPlus."

The new benefits are expected to become available by August 1st.