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A new twist for same-sex partner benefits

As more states make same-sex marriage a legal option, some companies are delivering an ultimatum to gay employees: Get married, or your partner will lose their benefits.

The twist is happening now that same-sex marriage is legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia. The Supreme Court will decide later this year on whether gay couples are constitutionally entitled to get married, which could push the issue at more corporations across the country, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Multinational and large U.S. companies have increasingly extended health benefits to the partners of gay employees under the philosophy of providing them the same benefits that married employees enjoy, even though many gay couples couldn't legally wed. Now that they can in states from Alaska to Florida, some of those corporations are rethinking that policy. Now, they're requiring gay employees to get married if they want to continue health benefits for their partners.

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"The main idea is to make things fair for everyone," Verizon (VZ) spokesman Ray McConville told The Journal. "Currently, if you're a guy living with a longtime girlfriend or vice versa, you don't have the ability to get health insurance for your partner."

Verizon last year informed employees living in states where same-sex marriage is legal that they would have to get married within six months to continue the benefits. In states where same-sex marriage isn't legal, nothing has changed for Verizon employees, according to HR Online.

Delta Air Lines is another big employer that recently started taking this approach. Still, the airline said it will cover extra income taxes for employees whose domestic partners receive health benefits in states that don't allow same-sex marriage. It also said it participated in a brief urging the Supreme Court to support marriage equality.

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Equality might be one thing, but some advocates say corporate mandates to get married or lose benefits raise some issues that straight couples don't usually deal with. For instance, some couples may fear getting outed as gay to colleagues and suffering subsequent discrimination, given that marriage certificates are public, The Journal noted.

Others might take umbrage at what could be seen as a corporate dictate to get hitched, especially if their employers don't provide enough time to plan for a wedding before their partner benefits are taken away.

Corporations are under pressure on a number of fronts. Many want to be seen as supporting the cause of marriage equality, which has gained widespread backing during the past two years. About 54 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, while 39 percent oppose it, according to Pew Research.

On top of that, many companies are already cutting back on benefits for dependents, given the rising cost of health care coverage. A 2014 study from Aon Hewitt found that 22 percent of employers had already reduced their subsidies for covered dependents, while half said they'd cut back in the next five years. One out of 10 had eliminated coverage altogether for spouses and domestic partners with access to other health care plans.

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