ExxonMobil Offering Benefits to Same-Sex Couples

Will follow federal lead, recognize "all legal marriages" to determine eligibility for health care


IRVING, Texas -- Exxon Mobil Corp. said Friday that it will begin offering benefits to legally married same-sex couples in the United States for the first time starting next week, reported the Associated Press.

The company said it will recognize "all legal marriages" when it determines eligibility for health care plans for the company's 77,000 U.S. employees and retirees.

That means if a gay employee has been married in a state or country where gay marriage is legal, his or her spouse will be eligible for benefits with ExxonMobil in the United States as of Oct. 1.

The company, which is facing a same-sex discrimination complaint in Illinois, said it was following the lead of the U.S. government. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which had allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states. In recent months, federal agencies have begun to offer benefits to legally-married same sex couples.

"We haven't changed our eligibility criteria. It has always been to follow the federal definition, and it will continue to follow the federal definition," ExxonMobil spokesperson Alan Jeffers told the news agency.

Jeffers said the company offers benefits to same-sex couples in 30 countries, consistent with local laws.

But ExxonMobil has been criticized for declining to offer same-sex benefits or explicitly ban discrimination against gay and transgender workers at a time when many other big companies, including rival oil companies, have done so, said AP.

In a ranking this year of corporate anti-discrimination policies to protect gay, lesbian and transgender workers by the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group, ExxonMobil ranked last.

The company is facing a complaint in Illinois for allegedly discriminating against a gay job applicant. ExxonMobil says the complaint is without merit.

Tico Almeida, founder and president of Freedom to Work, a gay-rights group involved in the Illinois case, commended ExxonMobil for changing its benefit policy, but criticized the company for "dragging its feet."

"It's a shame Exxon waited until after the Labor Department issued official guidance explaining that their old policy does not comply with American law," Almeida told AP.

Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp., the largest publicly traded international oil and gas company, is the largest refiner and marketer of petroleum products. It market its fuels products to customers worldwide through its branded retail stations and three global business-to-business segments--industrial and wholesale, aviation and marine.