Empire State regulators say an accident and health insurer can make coverage available to the same-sex domestic partners of insureds without necessarily having to offer coverage to opposite-sex domestic partners.

The New York general counsel’s office recently came to that conclusion in an opinion representing the views of the New York State Insurance Department.

The office came to a similar conclusion in 1994. Since then, New York has enacted a law permitting gay and lesbian couples to form same-sex civil unions.

“There is nothing in the Insurance Law or the regulations promulgated thereunder that mandate that an insurer provide domestic partner coverage at all,” officials write in the new New York opinion.

Despite the existence of a new same-sex domestic partner law, insurers should continue to have the option of offering “domestic partner” coverage to same-sex partners without offering it to opposite-sex partners, “in recognition of the reality that opposite-sex domestic partners have other legal options available to them – such as marrying – that same-sex domestic partners at this time do not have under current New York law,” officials write.

“If the department were to start requiring that insurers that voluntarily offer domestic partner coverage offer it across the board to both same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners, the department could be faced with a situation whereby insurers might choose not to offer domestic partner coverage at all, thereby leaving many same-sex domestic partners without needed health coverage,” officials conclude.

A copy of the opinion is available