Conshohocken steelworker sues for health insurance for gay spouse

It’s a case that highlights the uncertainty of laws surrounding same-sex couples: A steelworker in Conshohocken has sued his union and his employer for denying health insurance to his husband.

The complaint revolves around the letter of his health insurance contract.

Bryce Ginther’s lawyer, Teresa Renaker, argues there’s nothing in the language of her client’s health plan that would preclude his partner from receiving health benefits.

“If their plan says ‘spouse’ with no limitation, then that means any spouse — any legally married spouse — not just an opposite-sex spouse,” Renaker said.

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Ginther and his husband married in New York last spring and sent a request the same day for coverage under the insurance Ginther has through the United Steelworkers union. Ginther had tried to add his partner before their marriage.

Denied again, he’s suing the union and his employer, multinational ArcelorMittal.

“I think it’s a strategic and political case,” said Angela Giampolo of Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia. She said she thinks the case probably won’t get past the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

(If you want to get into the weeds, Ginther’s lawyer argues that DOMA doesn’t really apply and the case falls under federal labor law, specifically the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, dating back to the 1970s. Giampolo thinks that where there’s ambiguity, a judge will probably fall back on DOMA’s definition of marriage.)

Overall, said Giampolo, the case highlights the “legal hodge-podge of local laws all over the United States for LGBT people, because they have to first look at the state in which they live and then look at what rights they have.”

Gay marriage is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. It is not legal in Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court will hold hearings next month on challenges to DOMA and a California state proposition banning gay marriage.

The employer in question, ArcelorMittal says it’s “reviewing the matter to determine next steps.”

The steelworkers union did not return a request for comment Thursday.

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