Oxendine Ordered to Honor Domestic-Partner Insurance
Atlanta Journal Constitution,
September 23, 1999
72 Marietta Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30303
By Jay Croft, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A judge scolded Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine on Wednesday for blocking
the city of Atlantas domestic-partner benefits after the state Supreme Court already
had approved them.
"It was outside the scope of his statutory authority and was an abuse of his
discretion," Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob said. Shoob ordered
Oxendine to approve the citys plan--which lets workers cover straight or gay
dependent, domestic partners--and other similar benefit plans that follow state law.
The decision clears the way for employers across Georgia to grant the benefits, said
attorneys for the city and a gay rights group.
"This is major," said Assistant City Attorney Robin Shahar, who argued the
citys case. "This victory is a long time coming."
The city, thought to be the first government in Georgia to seek the benefits, has tried
to grant them since 1993, but has been blocked by legal challenges. An ordinance won
Supreme Court acceptance in 1997. But Oxendine, a longtime opponent of domestic-partner
benefits, still refused to allow changes in the citys policy.
He wrote in February the high courts approval was based on the Municipal Home
Rule Act, which does not "empower the city to usurp the commissioners
authority" and force him to approve a change in coverage. He wrote that granting the
coverage would be "unfair, inequitable, would encourage misrepresentation and is
contrary to the public policy of the state."
Shahar said Georgia might be the only state in the country that requires companies to
seek the insurance commissioners approval of changes in their insurance coverage.
Employers who self-insure are exempt.
The city sued March 15 to force Oxendines hand, and later was joined by City
Councilwoman Cathy Woolard, who said she needs the insurance for her 11-year partner,
At a June hearing, Assistant Attorney General Paul Weisbecker told Shoob that Oxendine
opposes the policies because they encourage illegal sexual relationships.
On Wednesday, Shoob hammered a different state attorney, Harold Melton, with questions
about legal support for Oxendines argument. Neither the citys domestic-partner
ordinance nor the insurance plans mention sex, she said, and the state is legally allowed
to consider only information on the policy forms, not speculation.
"The ordinance accommodates sex," Melton told Shoob.
" Accommodates sex--what does that mean?" Shoob asked.
Melton then told Shoob that sex is not necessarily the issue. Rather, he said, some
domestic partnerships seek to imitate marriage--which can be sexless--and the Legislature
has voted against recognizing homosexual and common-law marriages.
"Is there any doubt that these relationships are for intimate relations?"
"I dont know what theyre for and Im not sure that its my
business--or your business, or the insurance commissioners business," Shoob
said, since the citys domestic-partner ordinance has passed the Supreme Court.
Spokesmen for Oxendine and Attorney General Thurbert Baker declined to comment, saying
they would await Shoobs written order Friday before deciding whether to seek an
Attorney Stephen R. Scarborough of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, who
represented Woolard, said Oxendine for years has taken a "damn the torpedoes"
approach to the issue.
"He may have assumed that his arguments would have appeal to certain
constituencies," Scarborough said. "The commissioners policy has had a
disparate impact on gay and lesbian couples.
"I have talked to employers large and small who felt burdened by this. I think
well see a lot of people try to offer the benefits now. Assuming that he (Oxendine)
follows the law, we really shouldnt have any problems."
Judge Wendy Shoobs Oral Ruling
Atlanta Journal Constitution,
September 23, 1999
Judge Wendy Shoobs oral ruling on state Insurance Commissioner John
Oxendines refusal to allow domestic-partner insurance benefits:
"I do not find that the commissioners actions in denying this coverage,
these policies, was in accordance with state law and the state Constitution. I find that
it was outside the scope of his statutory authority and was an abuse of his discretion.
For those reasons, I will find that the conclusions made by the commissioner were unlawful
and his disapproval should now be reversed and the commissioner is ordered to approve the
insurance forms submitted to his office by the City of Atlantas insurance companies
regarding this domestic-partnership coverage. And he is further directed not to unlawfully
withhold his approval of domestic-partnership coverage which is in compliance with the
laws of the state of Georgia and the rulings of the Supreme Court."
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