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State to expand benefits to gay spouses

Profile image for By Jenna Duncan
By Jenna Duncan

UNT VP prepared to drop lawsuit

Same-sex spouses of state employees will now be eligible for benefits, as well as their dependents, and can enroll during the current open enrollment period.

This means Deborah Leliaert, a vice president at the University of North Texas, will be able to enroll her wife, Paula Woolworth, for benefits this week. The two filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the state’s Employee Retirement System in the hopes of getting Woolworth ensured through the state’s health policy.

“This is a win for Texas,” Leliaert said. “It makes good sense for both the state and its employees.”

Since the Supreme Court struck down same-sex marriage bans Friday, Leliaert has tried to enroll Woolworth for coverage but was denied. Now that ERS has given employers direction, however, she hopes to complete the enrollment.

Kenneth Upton, senior counsel with Lambda Legal, an organization that advocates for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people and people with HIV/AIDS, said that as long as Woolworth’s enrollment goes through, they’ll drop the case.

“The relief we were asking for has already been granted now,” he said. “We’ll obviously wait and make sure she can get Paula enrolled and there’s no hassle. If she can successfully enroll, that really resolves the case for us.”

Employees who were married legally in other states before the Supreme Court decision can enroll spouses for state-funded benefits immediately, and coverage will be effective Wednesday, according to information from ERS. Dependent stepchildren will also be able to enroll, but with coverage beginning Sept. 1.

For those couples married on or after June 26, employees and their spouses will need to apply for their state-funded benefits within 30 days of their marriage. Then, coverage for the spouse will be effective the first day of the month after they file.

The changes are a “win for us all around,” Upton said.

“The thing about it is this is a move we can all celebrate,” he said. “It’s nice of them to do the right thing.”

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.