WASHINGTON (CNS) — A decision by the Michigan Catholic Conference to allow employees to add one “legally domiciled adult” to their health insurance plan is about “residency,” not “relationship,” said a conference spokesman.
The only reason for the change is to make sure the health plan is legally compliant with recent changes in federal law on providing health benefits while being consistent with Catholic Church teaching on marriage as being between one man and one woman, said Dave Maluchnik, director of communications for the conference, which is the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops.
“Legally domiciled adult,” or LDA, is a term used in the employee benefits industry to refer to a person who is at least 18 years of age, shares basic living expenses and is financially interdependent with an employee.
Among other requirements, the individual also has to have lived in the same residence with the employee for at least six months and must provide documentation that verifies his or her status.
Under the law, such an individual could be a spouse, a sibling, a relative, an adult child or a friend.
Maluchnik said the conference — which administers employee benefits for more than 9,000 employees in seven dioceses in Michigan — does not expect a significant increase in the cost of providing coverage. “We’re anticipating a very small number of enrollees,” he told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview March 11.
The decision to allow employees to add a legally domiciled adult to their health plan was approved by the conference’s board of directors.
Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron is chairman of the board; other board members are the bishops of Michigan’s six other dioceses, five lay Catholics, one priest and one religious sister.
The decision followed a moral analysis by the Philadelphia-based National Catholic Bioethics Center, Maluchnik said, which found the legally domiciled adult benefit is consistent with Catholic teaching primarily because the intended beneficiary but must meet residency requirements. It has nothing to do his or her relationship with the employee.
Other options were evaluated, he said. One was to do nothing, which was immediately rejected, “because doing nothing was not acceptable,” Maluchnik said. There also was the option to drop health coverage all together or to drop spousal coverage, both of which also were deemed unacceptable, he said, because the Catholic conference believes employees who dedicate their lives to the church “do deserve a medical benefit and it’s important to support their families too.”
Asked how long the Michigan Catholic Conference has been considering the approved option, Maluchnik said “for as long as matters were developing at national level on marriage,” starting with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in U.S. v. Windsor. The court ruled 5-4 that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, defining marriage as between one man and one woman was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.
A year later, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took up a legal challenge to the 2004 voter-approved amendment to the Michigan constitution defining marriage between a man and a woman. The Michigan bishops filed an amicus brief with the appeals court strongly defending the amendment. In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, ruling same-sex marriage was legal across the country.
That year the Michigan Catholic bishops declared 2015 a “Year for Marriage,” which included a Michigan Celebrates Marriage website; a series of TV commercials airing statewide; and an educational program in each of the seven Michigan dioceses promoting and teaching about one man and one woman in marriage.
Gay rights activists have praised the Michigan Catholic Conference for allowing an added beneficiary to employees health plans, but said it doesn’t go far enough because they want the Catholic Church to accept same-sex relationships and marriage.
Besides upholding the traditional definition of marriage, the Catholic Church teaches that any sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful.
Maluchnik reiterated that the Catholic conference’s decision to allow an employee to add a beneficiary to his or health plan is about “residency,” not “relationship.”
“The Catholic Church’s teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman has not changed. But the federal government’s definition of marriage, post Windsor and Obergefell, has changed. The LDA benefit allows the church to continue to provide a necessary health benefit while remaining consistent with church teaching,” he told CNS.