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Auto Companies Recognize Same Sex Marriages, Regardless of State Bans

When Bill Huffaker and his husband Darin Severns moved from San Franscisco to the Detroit area a year ago, they gave up the legal recognition of their marriage by the state. They'd been married in 2004, and that marriage was ruled invalid. They were married again in 2008, a vow that was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. But here in Michigan, according to current state law, they are single again.
But now their employer, General Motors, is trying to make up for it. Since the Federal government is now recognizing married couples, GM is following suit and allowing couples who are legally married in any state to enroll as married in their benefits programs, no matter what state they live in.
The big three - GM, Ford and Chrysler are in the process of recognizing same-sex marriages. While they have long had domestic partner benefits in place, the marriage recognition adds significant benefits.
GM's Chief Diversity Officer Ken Barrett explained that the changes include pension plans, savings plans and health care plans. Being able to enroll as a spouse saves the couples in the amount of taxes that are paid on benefits. For some this could mean a savings of up to $1,000 a year.
Those who are not legally married can still retain their current domestic partner benefits, which have been in place for years.
"Likewise, the modification does not impact other items, such as beneficiary designations under the life insurance programs," Barrett said.
"This decision is in line with GM's efforts to find, keep and grow the world's best talent and to offer our employees policies and benefits that are competitive with many of the largest and best-managed industrial companies in the U.S.," said Barrett.
Same-sex couples are still limited at the state level in Michigan where their benefits will be taxed. A memo released to Chrysler LGBT employees explains the process for taxation on health care plans.
"If you currently cover your domestic partner for health care benefits, you receive and are taxed on imputed income for state and federal tax purposes with respect to this coverage. As of September 16, 2013, if you are legally married to your domestic partner, or if your domestic partner is a dependent pursuant to Internal Revenue Code section 532 there will be no imputed income for federal tax purposes. State imputed income may continue to apply, depending on your state of residence. Adjustments to the payroll system to discontinue imputed income will occur in the first quarter of 2014. In the meantime, you should consult with your tax advisor regarding how to receive a credit for taxes paid on imputed income. More information regarding required documentation for proof of marriage will be sent to you once the payroll changes have been implemented." It also states that, "If you are not legally married, there will be no impact to your benefit eligibility."
For Huffaker and Severns it means a small economic savings that brings them almost back to the benefits they enjoyed in California. But it is more a matter pride and feeling accepted.
"There's a financial aspect, but there's also a pride aspect to it. It feels good that my company values my relationship," Huffaker said. He said before moving to Detroit to work for GM, he did his research and made sure that GM was inclusive.
"To be very honest with you, when I was considering leaving Google, a company that is famous for treating LGBT employees well, it weighed heavily on my mind whether or not to go. You have this feeling that when you're a couple you're welcome in San Francisco. It's accepted and that can impact your relationship if you move somewhere that it's not. The commitment to each other doesn't change, but we don't want the environment to change us. So we had a lot of talks about that," he said. "I met with the LGBT group here, got to know some people before we moved. And we've felt very welcome. I have a very visible role, where I interact with a lot of employees, supervisors. I always talk about my partner and I've always felt very welcome. It made me proud that my company is like that."
Huffaker, 41, is a director of Gobal Talent for GM. His husband Severns works in the IT Department. The couple lives in Birmingham and has been embraced both at work and in their community.
"It feels like any other major city," Huffaker said. "As soon as the moving trucks left, neighbors brought us baked goods. An elderly woman across the street came over and welcomed us to the neighborhood. She invited us to her church and said that it was a very gay-friendly church. ..We've not felt any discrimination."
The lack of discrimination among neighbors and co-workers is still tainted by the denial of marriage recognition by the state, but the men are hopeful that it will come in time, especially when large corporations like GM, Ford and Chrysler push for it.



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