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Gay Couple Sues Over Exclusionary Benefits

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (CN) - A central Pennsylvania school district offers family insurance benefits to "domestic partners," so long as they're not gay, a lesbian couple claims in federal court.

The State College Area School District (SCASD) "provides family insurance benefits that include unmarried SCASD employees' opposite-sex domestic partners, while excluding identically-situated employees' same-sex domestic partners," according to a 15-page complaint filed Tuesday.

The district's policy plainly states that when it comes to providing health benefits, "domestic partners cannot be the same gender," the women say.

Senior ACLU attorney Mary Catherine Roper, who is helping to represent the couple, said the policy "has no purpose other than to treat same-sex couples like second-class citizens."

Another attorney for the couple, Andrew Shubin in State College, Pa., framed the case as being "about basic fairness, tolerance, and equal treatment for hardworking families."

Plaintiff Kerry Wiessmann, who began working for the State College school district in 2003, says it is unconstitutional that her employer refuses to provide her partner of over 25 years, Beth Resko, with the same health benefits that the district offers opposite-sex domestic partners.

"The two women have shared their lives, home and financial obligations for over twenty-five years," according to the complaint. "They are also raising two children together. Plaintiffs seek equal access to the family health insurance benefits that defendant offers to its employees with spouses and opposite-sex domestic partners but denies to employees like Ms. Wiessmann who have same-sex domestic partners like Ms. Resko."

SCASD's health benefits plan "covers domestic partners but excludes domestic partners who are the same gender as the SCASD employee, even if they otherwise qualify for coverage," the couple claims.

The policy "demonstrates disrespect for Ms. Wiessmann as a person and reinforces stigma against her as a member of a minority group," the women say.

The couple says they qualify as domestic partners in essentially every respect.

"[They] own their home together in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship and have joint loans secured by the property," according to the complaint. "They hold their financial assets in accounts with rights of survivorship. They have joint credit accounts. Each contributes her income to the household and all bills are paid from those funds. Their cars are jointly owned and jointly insured. Plaintiffs have executed mutually beneficial wills, durable powers of attorney and health care powers of attorney. They have entered into a Living and Sharing Agreement to define their mutual financial obligations. Plaintiffs each carry life insurance benefiting the other. Plaintiffs are both the legal parents of their two children and share equally in parenting decisions and responsibilities."

Wiessmann says her requests to include Resko in the district's benefit plan were repeatedly rebuffed, and that the women were forced to purchase individual health insurance for Resko "at significant cost."

In an effort to obtain health insurance from her company, Resko says she switched positions from an independent contractor to an employee, and that her income was consequently reduced.

The women seek declaratory relief and an injunction enjoining the district from continuing to exclude same-sex domestic partners from receiving health benefits.

A public information specialist for the district declined to comment, saying the district has not yet been served and does not have a copy of the lawsuit.

According to its own promotional material, the district draws its students from a 150 square-mile area and educates roughly 7,200 students.

Attorney Shubin declined to discuss what his clients do for a living, but the district's website describes Wiessmann as an elementary school "counselor" who teaches "social skills."

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