Oct. 13, 2011

Unmarried couples can soon receive CU endowed benefits

Unmarried couples -- whether opposite- or same-sex, in which one partner is an endowed faculty or staff member -- will have the same access to the university's health and dental insurance, as of Jan. 1.

The couples must register with the university as domestic partners. Same-sex unmarried couples who are already registered as same-sex partners with Benefit Services do not need to re-register as domestic partners.

The change to include unmarried opposite-sex couples was made after careful consideration of policy since the Marriage Equality Act in New York state became law in July, allowing same-sex couples to marry.

"Since 1994, Cornell has been a pioneer in extending the benefits and privileges of employment to same-sex partners where legally possible," said Paul Bursic, senior director of Benefit Services. "As same-sex partners were not able to marry under New York state law, and therefore were unable to access Cornell benefits in the same way as could opposite-sex couples, we created a special benefits category for those who registered their same-sex partnership with Benefit Services."

Now same-sex partners can marry, giving them the same benefits as married opposite-sex couples, Bursic said. But rather than take away the benefits that registered unmarried same-sex partners have enjoyed, the university decided to extend benefits to any unmarried couples, both opposite- and same-sex partnerships, who register with Benefit Services, Bursic said.

Bursic noted that couples should be aware that there are tax implications for domestic partners who access their Cornell partner's benefits.

The Marriage Equality Act provides the opportunity for same-sex married couples to enjoy a pre-tax benefit only as relates to New York State tax, said Bursic. Its conditions do not apply to federal law or programs.

Endowed faculty and staff who are interested in establishing their domestic partnership on a formal basis can visit http://www.hr.cornell.edu for information on qualifications and the partnership form. Those who already have the formal recognition of the city of Ithaca or any other valid municipal certification may present that documentation to Benefit Services, 130 Day Hall, 607-255-3936, or email benefits@cornell.edu for verification and enrollment information and assistance.