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Corporations across the country have begun to extend benefits to their employees’ same-sex partners over the past decade, and Texas’ top firms have slowly begun to follow suit. Fifteen of Texas’ largest 25 firms responded to a Texas Lawyer poll asking if they provide benefits for their employees’ same-sex partners. Only five, or 33 percent of the 15 firms say they offer same-sex benefits; two firms, Dallas-based Winstead Sechrest & Minick and Houston-based Baker Botts, say they are looking to extend such benefits to their employees next year. “We have made contacts with other firms to see how it works and to see if it is something that will benefit our employees,” says Kim Legue, firm benefits coordinator. Firms that do offer benefits include Jones Day; Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; Weil, Gotshal & Manges; Fulbright & Jaworski; and Vinson & Elkins. Christopher Bacon, of counsel at Vinson & Elkins, says he believes that providing such benefits sends a positive message to prospective employees. V&E extended health insurance benefits to the partners of employees in same-sex relationships in 1997, he says. While other firms also offer benefits to their employees’ heterosexual partners if they live together but are not married, V&E does not. “Homosexual couples do not have the legal option to get married,” in Texas Bacon says. He believes offering benefits to same-sex partners “is certainly an issue when firms try to recruit good lawyers. It shows they believe in diversity, fair benefits and equal treatment. Even if employees do not take advantage of it, the symbolism is powerful, and for that reason alone, it is justified.” According to the 2002 Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, 221, or 69 percent, of the country’s 319 largest employers offer same-sex benefits. However, same-sex partners who take advantage of the benefits are taxed on the employer’s contribution for the dependent, as if it’s income, Bacon says. Bacon says offering same-sex benefits to employees and their partners is a gesture of goodwill toward employees, and often ends up not costing the company very much, as he suspects the number of employees who have a partner that needs coverage is low. Representatives from other firms that do not offer such benefits say that not offering such benefits has not been an issue for them. Houston solo Jerry Simoneaux, president of the Stonewall Law Association of Greater Houston, says it should be an issue for all employers, especially the state’s largest law firms. “It’s not an excuse to say it’s not an issue. That indicates that they’re keeping their employees quiet or that their employees are afraid to speak up,” he says. “Fortune 500 companies have discovered it’s a way to recruit quality folks, so I don’t see what is different in the legal community.”

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