BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
AutoNation announced Thursday that beginning in January, it will insure the spouses -- both same-sex and opposite sex -- of all legally married employees.
"Last week in an employee meeting, [Chairman and CEO Mike] Jackson announced that same sex couples who are married will be eligible for benefits," company spokesman Marc Cannon said.
The Fort Lauderdale-based company, with 21,000 employees at 256 franchises in 16 states, calls itself "America's Largest Automotive Retailer."
For years, gay-rights activists criticized AutoNation for not offering domestic-partner benefits to same-sex partners.
AutoNation still will not insure unmarried partners, both gay and straight.
"All associate have to present proof of marriage," Cannon said.
Earlier this week, Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer announced it would insure all domestic partners beginning Jan. 1.
Cannon said in May that AutoNation, which includes sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policies, was reviewing company insurance policies regarding same-sex couples.
At the time, the nation awaited two gay-marriage rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 26, the court ruled the federal government must recognize all legally married same-sex couples and also opened the door for gay marriage to return in California, where AutoNation has 44 franchises.
Gay marriage is legal in 13 states, plus Washington, D.C. Twenty nine states, including Florida have constitutional bans on same-sex marriages.
AutoNation will insure legally married spouses regardless of where they live, Cannon said.
"So, if you marry in Connecticut and live in Florida and have a marriage certificate, you're good to go," he said."
Michael Emanuel Rajner, a gay HIV/AIDS activist in Fort Lauderdale, said he "applauds AutoNation for recognizing the marriage from any state for any of their employees, especially here in Florida where same-sex marriage is outlawed."
"But," said Rajner, "I would invite Mr. Jackson and AutoNation to sit down with myself and other leaders in the community to help them understand the dire hardships on its Florida-based unmarried employees in domestic partnerships, regardless of sexual orientation, of their struggle to provide healthcare and other critical benefits that enrich every family."