CONCORD, N.H. The state has dropped its appeal in the case of two lesbian employees who had sought the same health benefits and bereavement leave as their married co-workers.
In a ruling last year, a superior court judge found that requiring state employees to be married to get family benefits is discriminatory, given that the state bars gays and lesbians from marrying.
Just last month, the Legislature approved civil unions for same-sex couples and Gov. John Lynch said he would sign the bill. Sponsors of the measure called it a door to marriage in all aspects but name.
The case was to be heard before the New Hampshire Supreme Court on Thursday, May 10.
“In light of the civil unions legislation … it would seem that the underlying issues would be made moot,” said Michael Brown, senior assistant attorney general.
Brown said the state’s argument for an appeal was rooted in the idea that “these are policy matters,” and that lawmakers, not the court, should decide whether to extend benefits to the partners of state employees. When lawmakers paved the way for civil unions, he said, that legal argument dissolved.
Last year’s ruling had reversed a 2002 decision by the state Human Rights Commission involving Patricia Bedford of Concord and Anne Breen of Salisbury, both employees of state colleges and in relationships with long-term partners. The State Employees Association had sought domestic-partner benefits for years.
“We’re thrilled for Patricia and Anne and their families,” said Karen Loewy, attorney for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders of Boston. “The discrimination that they’ve endured for many years has been acknowledged, and will be addressed.”
Bedford, an 11-year employee of the college system, is a department director overseeing programs for low-income, first generation students and students with disabilities.
She and Vivian Knezevich, her partner of over 15 years, live in Concord with their 4-year-old, son Christopher.
Breen, who has worked at the college for 18 years, is director of security. She and Kathleen Doyle, her partner of 29 years, live in Salisbury with their 11-year-old son, Matthew.
Initially, Breen was barred from placing Matthew on her insurance. She had to become a legal guardian of Matthew Doyle’s biological son before placing him on her insurance.
Breen and Bedford also were forced to use vacation time to care for their sick partners.
After Bedford gave birth to her son, she and Knezevich decided that Knezevich would stay home while Bedford returned to work; Knezevich had lost her health benefits. Bedford took a part-time job at night to receive benefits.
“This really validates mine and Anne’s existence: that we’re regular families with kids, who just happen to have a partner who’s a woman,” Bedford said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, April 27, 2007.