NU Online News Service, June 24, 2004, 4:22 p.m. EDT

Same-sex spouses who live in Massachusetts may end up having an easier time getting some dependent benefits than others.[@@]

Researchers at Aon Corp., Chicago, are basing that conclusion on results of a survey they conducted after a recent Massachusetts court decision legalized same-gender marriage. Aon asked large and midsize employer in the state about the possible effects of the decision on benefits.

The researchers received written survey responses from 216 employers.

Although 33% of the survey participants said their companies probably would open health plans to same-gender partners, only 15% of the qualified retirement plans would treat same-sex partners as legal spouses.

The percentage is lower for retirement plans because managers of plans that qualify for federal tax breaks worry that treating same-sex partners as spouses will expose them to the risk of losing the plans’ tax-qualified status, Aon says.

But the majority of Massachusetts employers appear to be open to the idea of treating same-sex spouses as legal spouses. Fewer than 40% of the survey participants said their employers have decided to deny health plans to same-sex spouses, and only 43% of the participants said their employers have decided against treating same-sex spouses as legal spouses for purposes of retirement plan administration, Aon says.