Sixty-two percent of Fortune 500 companies offer health insurance benefits for domestic partners, but before yesterday, that list did not include Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the second largest employer in the country behind the federal government.

Now, however, Wal-Mart has changed its stance. The company announced Tuesday it will offer health insurance benefits to domestic partners of its U.S. employees starting next year. The company also plans to begin offering vision care and free knee and hip joint replacements to eligible employees and their dependents.

The change comes on the back of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June forcing the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages in states where the unions are legal. According to Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar, “Since we operate in all 50 states, we thought it was important to develop a single definition for all Wal-Mart associates in the U.S.”

Tovar also explained that Wal-Mart’s insurance benefits now cover domestic partners if they are not-separated legal spouses or a domestic partner of same or opposite gender in an ongoing, exclusive relationship similar to marriage for at least 12 months with the intention to continue sharing a household indefinitely.

According to Reuters, Wal-Mart health plans cover 1.1 million people, including workers’ families. Part-time employees must work for Wal-Mart for one year and work an average of 30 hours a week to qualify. The company doesn’t know how many employees plan on taking advantage of the new benefits.


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