A lawsuit that could impact religious liberty in at least six states — and which also has implications for the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — was filed in a federal district court in New York Tuesday.
St. Joseph’s Medical Center — a Catholic hospital in Westchester — and Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, the private company that insures it, are the targets of a class-action lawsuit waged by an employee who was denied spousal benefits for her partner. The two women — named as Jane Doe and Jane Roe in the lawsuit — were legally married after the New York Legislature created same-sex marriage last year.
“I remember almost a year ago when this bill was signed into law, we were told that it would have no impact on religious freedoms,” said the Rev. Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms. “Less than a year later it’s very clear that gay marriage is indeed having an impact on religious freedom here in the Empire State.”
BCBS told Roe in May that same-sex partners are not valid “dependents,” under the company’s medical-benefits plan. The lawsuit is based on the 1974 Employment Retirement Security Act, a federal law that imposes standards on all kinds of employee-benefit plans.
St. Joseph’s Medical Center insurance plan is self-financed, which means it falls under federal law — -i.e., DOMA — rather than the laws of New York State.
“Our clients have a right to enjoy the full benefits of marriage afforded to other married couples in New York,” said the women’s lawyer, Jeffrey Norton, “and we are determined to achieve that right for them.”
Norton told CitizenLink any business headquartered in New York — or any of the other five states which currently allow same-sex marriage — must be governed by the laws of that state.
“If the law gives an equal standing to a married couple regardless of sexual orientation, a Catholic institution, just like any other company or organization operating in the state has to follow that law,” he said. “As it stands today, they actually can get around the law of the state by relying on federal law, under the Defense of Marriage Act, so our case really says the Defense of Marriage law is unconstitutional.”
McGuire disagreed, saying both individuals and religious organizations must be allowed to live out the dictates of their faith in the public square.
“Religious freedoms don’t end at the rights of our religious institutions,” he said. “If we don’t have individual religious-freedom rights, then we really don’t have any religious freedom at all.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Read Roe and Doe vs. Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield and St. Joseph’s Medical Center.