Friday, August 10, 2007

Oregon Pension Plan Ties Hands Of Gays

Oregon Pension Plan Ties Hands Of Gays
by Newscenter Staff

Posted: August 7, 2007 - 5:00 pm ET

(Salem, Oregon) Because a domestic partnership is not a marriage gays and lesbians who are covered by Oregon's Public Employees Retirement System cannot remove their ex-partners as beneficiaries to their pension plans.

Barbara Pinkerton and Katharine English signed up their same-sex partners as beneficiaries while they were employed by the state - Pinkerton as a teacher and English as a juvenile court referee.

But both relationships soured and the Pinkerton and English are now retired.

To their surprise both found they could not remove their partners as beneficiaries. The reason: the Public Employees Retirement System, or PERS, has a regulation that only married couples are allowed to remove a beneficiary from their state pension, and then only after a formal divorce.

Since same-sex couples are unable to marry they are unable to legally divorce, the PERS board ruled.

The ruling means that both women will receive lower monthly pension payouts.

Both women appealed the decision and were turned down. The case is now before the Oregon Court of Appeals.

LGBT civil rights activists in the state say that the case shows the pressing need for full marriage in Oregon.

In May Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed legislation same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples unable to marry to form legally recognized partnerships. (story) It takes effect next January.

The Family Fairness Act was intended to grant rights, responsibilities and protections afforded to other Oregon couples and their families currently only available through a marriage contract in Oregon.

The state has a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage and the partnership legislation was carefully worded to avoid legal challenges that it was trying to circumvent the terms of the amendment.

It grants bereavement or sick leave to care for a partner or a partner's child, allow a person to choose a final resting place for a deceased partner, transfer property and assets from a deceased partner to his or her surviving partner if the deceased had no valid will, obtain joint insurance, enter joint rental agreements and get an equitable division of property in a partnership dissolution or annulment.

Nevertheless the dissolution or annulment provision does not satisfy the state's own pension plan requirements.

In addition, a conservative group is gathering signatures for a second constitutional amendment to nullify the domestic partner law.

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