Though more employers in La Plata County have begun extending health benefits to domestic partners, advocates say tax inequities wipe out many of the advantages to this.
The city and Fort Lewis College are among the employers that have opted to offer same-sex couples this option in the last year. But some potential beneficiaries are not taking advantage because it could mean paying thousands of dollars in additional taxes.
"It was very frustrating that it's such a well-kept secret," said Marcy Jung, an assistant professor in exercise science and women's studies, who looked into adding her partner to her policy.
The reason same-sex couples pay more is because tax law considers the benefits extended to the employee's partner to be "imputed income," which both the employee and employer must pay taxes on.
Conversely, when an employer extends health benefits to a worker's spouse or children, it is not counted as income and does not add to the payroll taxes they pay, said Lara Schwartz, legal director for the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign.
Moreover, employees cannot use pretax dollars to pay for a domestic partner's coverage.
"It's kind of a triple whammy," Schwartz said. "It really narrows the choices and is one of the many reasons gay people are more likely to be uninsured."
But for some couples, it still makes sense. Sherri Dugdale, special projects coordinator for the city, added her partner to her policy after the city changed its policy starting this year.
"I'm getting better benefits for less money for my partner," she said.
Before, they purchased her partner's insurance from a private vendor.
Sarah Roberts-Cady, associate professor of philosophy and women's studies, heads FLC's task force on family-response policies, which pushed for the domestic-partner benefit. She was disappointed to learn of the expense couples face in taking advantage of it.
"Clearly, we still have an equity problem, even though we've made so much progress," she said.
Schwartz, with the rights campaign, said federal legislation was introduced in the last congressional session to erase the inequity, but no action was taken on it. She predicted that it would return this session, most likely as part of a larger health-care or tax-reform bill.
Jung has her doubts that anything will change.
"At this point I'm not putting a whole lot of hope into it," she said.