US: Boeing will now allow pension survivor benefits for same-sex couples

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Boeing, one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers, has reversed a previous decision to deny pension survivor benefits for married same-sex couples.

The union representing thousands of technical workers announced that the company had agreed language in new contracts which would give married same-sex couples the same survivor benefits as straight married couples.

In November 2012 Boeing told union negotiators that it would deny pension survivor benefits to same-sex couples, despite Washington State having approved on an equal marriage law earlier that month.

Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, represents 23,000 technical workers and engineers at Boeing, and was part of the negotiations surrounding this issue.

He said: “We are satisfied that this language protects same sex spouses.”

The language in the contract, according to the Stranger: “Recognizing Boeing’s commitment to equality without regard to sexual orientation, Boeing will extend pension survivor benefits to all spouses, as defined under either State or Federal law whichever defines the same sex person as a spouse.”

Mr Goforth went on to say: “This language also protects members if same-sex marriage is recognized at the federal level but made illegal at the state level.”

An example would be that benefits would still apply if the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman on a federal level, was struck down, and marriage became legal, “but then a state adopts its own discriminatory statute.”

In November a spokesperson for the company, Doug Alder, in a statement denied that the policy was meant to discriminate, and said that Boeing would possibly change its stance on the matter. He said:

“Any assertion that Boeing discriminates is blatantly false and, quite frankly, offensive.”

Mr Goforth, however, described the policy as exploiting a “loophole”, and had said Boeing’s “answer was that they had no intention of granting pension survivor benefits to legally married same-sex couples because they didn’t have to.”

One member of the union had started a petition to push Boeing into equalising the benefits for gay and straight couples. It  was signed by almost 80,000 people.

Union members will vote on the final, overall contract proposals, in the coming weeks.

In the early hours of 7 November, the US west coast state of Washington followed Maine and Maryland in passing a referendum in support of marriage rights for gay couples, and Minnesota voted against outlawing equal marriage.