Days before same-sex marriage is due to become legal in Florida, Publix Super Markets has told employees that gay and lesbian couples legally married elsewhere will be eligible Thursday for group health and other insurance.
"Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, Publix is expanding spouse coverage for its health, dental and vision benefit plans to associates who are married in any state where same-sex marriages are legal, regardless of the associates' state of residence," reads an internal memo from the supermarket company's corporate communications department. "Publix's benefit plans offer coverage to legal spouses, and until recently, the states in which Publix operates did not recognize same-sex marriages as legal unions."
Until now, Publix did not offer insurance benefits for same-sex couples, legally married or not. "The majority of the total Fortune 500 — 66 percent — offer equivalent medical benefits between spouses and partners," according to the nation's leading LGBT-rights lobbying group, Human Rights Campaign, which is based in Washington, D.C.
Publix, based in Lakeland, owns 1,095 grocery stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Thirty-five states, plus the District of Columbia, recognize same-sex marriage, including North Carolina, where it became legal in October, and South Carolina, where it became legal in November.
The grocer said that there will be a special 30-day enrollment period for same-sex married employees starting Jan. 1. Thirty days later, same-sex spouses will receive the same insurance benefits as opposite-sex spouses. To sign up, Publix employees must provide certified marriage certificates and universal enrollment forms, and declare whether they or spouses use tobacco products, according to a corporate human resources worker.
"This is huge news," said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, a leading statewide LGBT-rights groups, which is based in St. Petersburg. "Publix is an iconic brand as associated with Florida as beaches and sunshine. This step recognizes that marriage is coming and acknowledges the impossibility of maintaining separate and unequal laws in some parts of our state and nation.
"The timing of this announcement comes as dozens of businesses are weighing in, calling for an end to the marriage ban."
National companies including Target, Amazon.com, Delta and Marriott have filed friends-of-the-court briefs calling for an end to Florida's gay marriage ban.
In 2008, 62 percent of Florida voters approved amending the Florida Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.
Same-sex marriage is likely to become legal in Florida on Jan. 6, when a stay expires in the state's federal case overseen by U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Tallahassee.