PAPILLION, Neb. (AP) — Sarpy County commissioners have decided to extend health insurance benefits to spouses of gay county employees who have legally married in another state but live in Nebraska.
The Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 for the change on Tuesday. Under the previous policy, same-sex couples were allowed health benefits if they were legally married in another state and lived in a state that allowed it, such as nearby Iowa.
Board Chairman Jim Thompson said the old policy was, in effect, telling some employees that they had to leave their Nebraska homes and quit paying Nebraska taxes so they could live in Iowa and pay Iowa taxes. He voted for the change.
But Commissioner Don Kelly, who voted against the measure, said he relied on the Nebraska Constitution, “and it says that marriage is between a man and a woman. And I’m not passing a moral judgment on whether that’s right or wrong or indifferent, but I just don’t see how we can offer a benefit that’s counter to our own state constitution.”
Nebraska doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, and the state constitution dictates that only marriages between a man and a woman will be recognized.
The change goes into effect Feb. 1 through the county insurance provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield, which changed its policy Jan. 1 following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The high court in June negated a critical part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
The city of Omaha decided this fall that it wouldn’t offer health insurance and dental benefits to spouses of legally married gay employees because those benefits aren’t called for in current union contracts. City officials said those benefits will have to be negotiated in future contracts.
But Douglas County, which is home to Omaha and borders Sarpy County, started extending benefits to same-sex spouses of employees on Jan. 1.