( Chicago, IL, January 8, 2015 ) - Today, Lambda Legal announced that Douglas Hammett-Lair ( Doug ) started receiving spousal survivor benefits after CNA Financial Corporation amended its retirement plan to allow many surviving same-sex spouses to receive benefits. The change came after Lambda Legal and private counsel Louis Ascherman urged CNA to grant spousal benefits to same-sex couples together for years, if not decades, but only recently able to marry due to discriminatory marriage exclusions.
"Thirty six states and the District of Columbia now have the freedom to marry, but sadly that freedom came too late for many same-sex couples who had been in loving, committed relationships for decades," said Karen Loewy, Senior Attorney for Lambda Legal. "In many cases, couples were married for less than a year before one of the spouses died, complicating access to spousal benefits. Surviving spouses shouldn't be penalized because they were excluded from marriage for most of their time together.
"We're proud to have worked with CNA, a company with a long history of supporting the LGBT community, to implement a change in policy that provides major help and sometimes critical support for a surviving spouse, and thrilled that Doug will be treated like any other surviving spouse. We urge all other companies to follow CNA's lead," Loewy added.
Doug and Gary Hammett-Lair met in 1983 and were together for thirty years. Gary began working for CNA in Chicago in 1986 and named Doug as his beneficiary for his employer-provided life insurance and accidental death benefits. Both Gary and Doug were both diagnosed with disabling conditions in 1989 and both were on disability by early 1995. Because Gary was on disability, it limited the type of retirement plan he was able to participate in to one that only allowed spouses to receive survivor benefits. As a result, when he went on disability he could not name Doug as his beneficiary.
Gary and Doug got married in New York on August 23, 2013, and shortly thereafter Gary changed his designation of Doug from a general beneficiary to his spouse. Tragically, six weeks after their wedding, Gary was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and died in December of 2013. Doug then applied for spousal survivor benefits from CNA, but his request was denied because "a qualified spouse must be married to the participant at least one year prior to death in order to be eligible for a benefit."
Following appeals from Lambda Legal and Louis Ascherman, CNA announced a plan amendment that will allow a plan participant and his or her same-sex spouse married for less than a year to be considered as married for a full year if, at the date of death, they ( i ) lived in a state that either does not recognize their marriage or has recognized their marriage for less than a year, and ( ii ) they can prove that they lived together in the same household in a committed relationship of mutual support and sharing of financial obligations and living expenses for at least twelve months.
"We are proud to support CNA's LGBTQ employees who are vital contributors to CNA's success. Their work to advance the company is making CNA a better place to work," said Sarah Pang, Senior Vice President Communications and Community Involvement, CNA.
"My heart smiles knowing that this vital change will help so many couples like Gary and me," said Doug Hammett-Lair. "This is about the dignity that has been restored in my life and the validity to my marriage and to my relationship. I'm so grateful."