The ACLU of Rhode Island is representing a retired Tiverton School Department employee seeking to add her same-sex spouse to her health insurance benefits plan. Cheryl McCoullough, a Tiverton guidance counselor and health educator for 27 years, married Joyce Boivin in Massachusetts last year following that state's supreme court ruling that allowed same-sex couples to marry. They reside in Massachusetts.
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. She sought to have her spouse added to her benefits. The Tiverton School Committee, uncertain whether the couple was entitled to the same retirement benefits as straight married partners, voted last month to refer the matter to Superior Court.
Although the school district's preemptive lawsuit was quite broad in its request for relief essentially seeking a declaration that Rhode Island does not recognize gay marriage – RI ACLU cooperating attorney Lynette Labinger, who is representing the couple, anticipates that the issue will be favorably resolved on purely contractual grounds. She notes that the school district's health insurance policy, carried by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, explicitly extends coverage for couples whose marriage is legally recognized in the state where they wed. Since there is no question of the validity of McCullough's marriage in Massachusetts, the ACLU is arguing that the couple is clearly entitled to benefits under the insurance contract, and there is thus no need for the court to determine whether or how Rhode Island will recognize, under Rhode Island law, same-sex marriages from Massachusetts.
Also involved in assisting the couple are attorneys for NEA/RI and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders.