BY KRISTEN LOMBARDI
It may be the biggest unanswered question in the wake of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts: how will the state’s employers treat gay married couples when it comes to employee-benefits plans?
The answer is, at least for one major Bay State employer — Cumberland Farms, in Canton, which operates 900 or so gas stations and convenience stores throughout the Northeast — not very well.
Last month, Bay Windows broke the news that the retail chain will deny medical and dental coverage to legal spouses of its gay and lesbian employees, after an internal memo outlining the new policy was leaked to the paper. As reported in Bay Windows, a May 12 memo to employees justifies the company’s decision not to recognize same-sex marriages when determining employee benefits by explaining that it is permitted to do so under federal law. Because Cumberland Farms "self-insures" its employees and pays for the cost of their health-care coverage directly, it does not have to abide by any state laws, including the Supreme Judicial Court’s November 2003 ruling granting marital rights to same-sex couples. By contrast, companies with health plans such as Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Blue Cross Blue Shield do.