Lancaster County board votes against extending employee pension benefits to same-sex partners

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LINCOLN, Nebraska — Lancaster County commissioners have decided not to extend most pension plan benefits to same-sex partners of county employees despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively forced governments to extend certain benefits to same-sex partners.

The county Board of Commissioners on Thursday followed the Nebraska Defense of Marriage Amendment, a state constitutional amendment passed in 2000 that barred same-sex marriage, the Lincoln Journal Star reported (http://bit.ly/1vTsDM8 ).

"Until the constitution of the state of Nebraska is changed, I will not be in favor to making any change to our particular system, because I am obligated to support the constitution of Nebraska as it stands," said Commissioner Roma Amundson.

The Supreme Court's decision last year in U.S. versus Windsor struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denied a range of tax, health and pension benefits to legally married gay couples. County Administrator Kerry Eagan said that meant Lancaster County had to follow federal rules by extending pension benefits in three areas: hardship withdrawals, minimum required distributions and direct rollovers.

But the decision didn't bar states from not recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. That means states and local governments still can decide whether to extend to same-sex partners any benefits that aren't subject to federal rules, Eagan said.

Doug Cyr, chief deputy Lancaster County Attorney, told commissioners Thursday that they'd violate the Nebraska Defense of Marriage Act by extending any other pension benefits to same-sex partners of county employees.

Commissioner Jane Raybould said the county should extend all pension benefits to same-sex partners in order to remain competitive with other government entities and private companies, and that a federal court eventually will invalidate Nebraska's Defense of Marriage Amendment.

"I would prefer to make sure that we give coverage to these great employees that we currently have and great employees that we want to attract to our state," she said.


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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