April 27, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Pro-gay life insurance bill becomes law in Va.

A bill enabling Virginia companies to offer life insurance benefits to the same-sex partners of employees became law earlier this month after Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) signed the measure.

The new law, approved by both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly with unanimous votes, was enacted after McDonnell signed it April 7.

Stacey Johnson, a McDonnell spokesperson, said the governor signed the bill into law because it passed with broad bipartisan support in the House and Senate.

“In addition, it will have no fiscal impact on Virginia’s taxpayers,” she said. “The governor believes a decision about who an employer can extend life insurance coverage to should be made by the group policy holder and the insurer.”

Previously, state law permitted Virginia residents to take out group life insurance coverage only for a legal spouse or a child under age 25. But the new statute, which takes effect July 1, broadens that group of people to include anyone with whom a Virginia resident has a substantial and economic interest, including a same-sex partner.

Del. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), chief co-patron of the legislation and the only openly gay member of the Virginia General Assembly, said he was pleased the bill finally passed after it was first introduced three years ago.

“It’s exciting that after three years of work, GLBT people will be able to make their partners their beneficiaries,” Ebbin said. “It’s long overdue, but it’s a step forward nonetheless.”

Jon Blair, CEO of Equality Virginia, said he wasn’t surprised that McDonnell signed the bill when it came to his desk.

“This is pretty much no-brainer stuff,” he said. “Really, the only surprise is that it didn’t pass earlier.”

David Lampo, vice president of the Virginia Log Cabin Republicans, attributed the success of the bill this year to its Republican chief patron, Del. Tom Rust (R-Fairfax).

“Having a Republican patron made a very big difference, but we all owe Del. Adam Ebbin a debt for first proposing this bill,” Lampo said.

Ebbin first introduced the bill in the Virginia House in 2008. The legislation failed to pass that year and again in 2009 before it became law this year.

Ebbin said he believes the bill succeeded this year because the insurance lobby worked hard to support it and the Virginia Family Foundation didn’t obstruct its passage. He noted that a technical change in wording that didn’t substantively change the legislation also contributed to the bill’s success.

Previous versions of the bill allowed Virginia residents to designate someone from “any other class of persons” they wanted as a life insurance beneficiary, while the enacted version changes this language to “any other person” with whom the insured group member has an insurable interest.

The legislation notably failed in the two previous sessions when there were a greater number of Democratic lawmakers in the General Assembly and a Democratic governor. It passed during the administration of a Republican governor who’s not considered gay friendly.

Upon taking office, McDonnell renewed an executive order protecting certain classes of people from discrimination in the public workforce, although he left out sexual orientation as one such class. He later issued a directive saying the state shouldn’t discriminate against LGBT people, although this action doesn’t have the same teeth as an executive order.

Ebbin said he believes McDonnell allowed the bill to become law because he didn’t want to oppose legislation that provides for wider life insurance and because no controversy surrounded the bill as it progressed to the governor’s desk.

“So, I suspect that there wasn’t consideration for him to oppose a bill that passed nearly unanimously,” Ebbin said. “There’s the potential for the bill to be overridden and I’m sure he didn’t want any more controversy — considering the other controversies that he’s had in his first legislative session.”

Kelly Young, an Arlington, Va., resident who married his spouse Bill Reinsmith in Vermont earlier this month, encouraged Ebbin to introduce the legislation in 2008 so that he could provide life insurance to his partner through his company.

Although the issue is now moot for Young and Reinsmith because Young is self-employed and Reinsmith’s company offer doesn’t life insurance benefits, Young said the passage of the legislation moves Virginia forward.

“It is still important, both economically and morally,” Young said. “It’s a small step forward for LGBT equality in a state that doesn’t offer LGBT residents much in the way of equality and lately has sent some weird signals on LGBT issues.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

4 Comments
  • It’s about time. The litany of discrimination against LGBT people is obscene, especially without marriage equality. These small steps forward are to be celebrated, but we are going to keep making nothing but small steps until we have full marriage equality at the state and federal level. This success, however, does suggest that strategies that downplay the gay issue and instead lean on deregulation and freedom of enterprise and association may have more legs, especially in places like Virginia where LGTB rights per lack a strong political base.

  • Very glad to see this passed. This should benefit the people of Virginia as well as the insurance industry.

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