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Tiverton Gay Marriage Benefits Case Settled

Posted: February 10, 2005|Category: Discrimination Category: LGBT Rights

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The Tiverton School Committee and the Rhode Island ACLU have settled a suit the School Committee had filed seeking clarification of its obligations to Cheryl McCullough, a retired Tiverton School Department employee seeking to add Joyce Boivin, McCullough’s same-sex spouse, to her health insurance plan. The lawsuit was filed in September against McCullough, a Tiverton guidance counselor and health educator for 27 years, and her spouse, Joyce Boivin. They were married last year in Massachusetts, where they reside, following that state’s supreme court decision allowing same-sex couples to marry.  After being sued, McCullough contacted the ACLU for assistance.

As a retired teacher, McCullough is entitled to receive family health care benefits until the age of 65 under the school district’s collective bargaining agreement. When she sought to have her spouse added to her benefits, the School Committee, uncertain whether the couple was entitled to the same retirement benefits as opposite-sex married partners, referred the matter to Superior Court. 

However, because the suit was filed without the opportunity for the school committee to have heard from Ms. McCullough, an executive session was held at which Ms. McCullough’s counsel presented arguments on her behalf, including clarifying information from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Rhode Island regarding the health insurance contract at issue.  Because the school district’s health insurance policy explicitly extends coverage for couples whose marriage is legally recognized in the state where they wed, and because there is no question of the validity of McCullough’s marriage in Massachusetts, Blue Cross, since the filing of the suit, agreed to provide coverage to McCullough’s spouse under these circumstances.

As a result of that session, all the parties agreed that the matter was resolvable on narrow contractual grounds.  McCullough was represented by both John DeCubellis, Jr. of the NEA/RI and ACLU volunteer attorney Lynette Labinger, who also represented Ms. Boivin. Assistance in the case was provided by Gary Buseck, Legal Director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders in Boston.

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