June 4, 1997 (2)

The Reciprocal Beneficiary Act
(HB 118)

Caution: This act is not yet law.  Although the governor promised the Hawaii Senate to sign this act (which would be effective July 1, 1997 if he did so), he has not done so yet. [TR 06-11-98: The governor did not sign this act, but he let it become law.  In the summer of 1997 and in the spring of 1998, Hawaii's attorney general gutted the required health care provisions for reciprocal beneficiaries.  In doing so, the attorney general reversed her formal advice to Hawaii's Senate when the bill was drafted in the spring of 1997.]

HB 118 is nearly 100 pages long, with numerous references to material in other parts of Hawaii's legal code.  It is not a simple matter to read the act and even, say, enumerate the benefits and duties which it imposes with the status of reciprocal beneficiaries (a voluntary status).  Dan Foley, the lawyer for the cause of same-gender marriage, and physician Robby Jenkins will write a series of articles analyzing this act in detail.  The articles will appear in the monthly magazine Island Lifestyle.  Below is the first of these articles.  Foley will also make a formal presentation to the Hawaii Bar Association in July on this act.

                        Best Regards,

                        Tom Ramsey


An Introduction To The Hawaii Reciprocal Beneficiary Act
By Dan Foley, Esq. and Robby Jenkins, MD

        Hawaii's Reciprocal Beneficiary Act which was passed by the state legislature and is awaiting Governor Cayetano's signature is our nation's most comprehensive rights package for gay and lesbian families. [Note from TR:  With or without the governor's signature on this act, the same-gender marriage case is being pursued in the courts with full force.]  The name of the Reciprocal Beneficiary Act is slightly confusing because most of us have never heard of a "reciprocal beneficiary".  In fact it almost sounds like a new sexual choice, top, bottom, versatile ...  In all seriousness, reciprocal beneficiaries are similar to domestic partners, but also include any other couples who desire to establish a legally recognized relationship.  Quoting the Act, "The legislature believes that certain rights and benefits presently available only to married couples should be made available to couples comprised of two individuals who are legally prohibited from marrying one another."  For example, a widowed mother and her son can be reciprocal beneficiaries. 

        If all goes well the Reciprocal Beneficiary Act (RB Act) will become state law as of July 1, 1997.  As of that day, gay and lesbian couples may register at the State Department of Health as "reciprocal beneficiaries" and start receiving many, but not all, of the rights and benefits of marriage.  The individuals must be at least 18 years old and neither married or in another reciprocal beneficiary relationship.  The individuals need not [TR: "not" is underlined] be residents of Hawaii.  Thus non-residents can register here as "reciprocal beneficiaries".  Whether this will help non-residents in their home state is not yet known.  There may be situations that will benefit non-residents in terms of insurance policies and estate planning. 

        To register with the State Department of Health, one needs to complete the declaration (application) and have it notarized.  Take the form to the Department of Health and pay the eight-dollar ($8.00) fee.  Termination of a reciprocal beneficiary relationship is accomplished by the filing of a notarized declaration by either [TR:  "either" is underlined] of the beneficiaries with the Department of Health and payment of another eight dollar fee.  A marriage license issued to a reciprocal beneficiary will also terminate the reciprocal beneficiary relationship.  It is important to know that it takes only one [TR:  "only one" is underlined] of the reciprocal beneficiaries to terminate the relationship.  In fact, one could terminate it without the other person's consent or even knowledge of the termination. 

        The Act is 94 pages in length and covers a wide range of rights and obligations including:  survivorship rights and survivorship benefits, worker's compensation, state employees retirement beneficiary benefits, hospital visitation, private and public employee prepaid medical insurance benefits, joint auto insurance coverage, mental health commitment approvals and notifications, family and funeral leave.  The RB Act also includes tenancy in the entirety, disaster relief loans, public land leases, legal standing relating to wrongful death, victims rights and domestic violence family status, miscellaneous benefits such as University of Hawaii facilities use, anatomical gifts (donating organs, etc.), and government vehicle emergency use.  Because this list is so extensive, we thought we would cover different areas in a series of monthly articles.  This month we chose to discuss insurance issues as the new health, auto and life insurance rights are important. 

       A major, new right and benefit of the R. B. Act is the extension of family health insurance benefits to your reciprocal beneficiary (partner).  Basically this means that if an employer offers health insurance benefits to lawfully married couples then the employer must offer health insurance to your "partner" also.  This does not mean that the employer is obligated to pay the premiums for health insurance for your partner, but the employer must pay those premiums in certain circumstances.  This 
benefit also extends to the dependents of your partner. 

        With regard to life insurance, it is basically business as usual except that there are two benefits that are worth mentioning.  One is that a reciprocal beneficiary can take a policy out on their partner without the expressed consent of the insured person, just as a woman can take a policy out on her husband with the husband's consent, or vice versa.  The other benefit is a bit more obscure.  In the past when a gay or lesbian couple would apply for life insurance, the beneficiary would commonly be the insured person's mother.  This was done for underwriting purposes, as making your "friend" the beneficiary was considered unusual.  After the life insurance policy was issued, people would then change the beneficiary to their partner.  This maneuver will no longer be necessary under the Reciprocal Beneficiary Act. 

        As for automobile insurance the RB Act dictates that reciprocal beneficiaries will be treated the same as legally married couples.  The benefit is that automobile insurance can be obtained as a couple and the car or cars you own can be covered under one policy.  The obligation that goes with this is that as reciprocal beneficiaries, one can be held liable for the actions and damages of one's partner.  Thus, both of the partners' assets can be attached by the court, should damages in an auto accident 
exceed your insurance policy limits. 

        In summary, the Reciprocal Beneficiary Act is an important first step towards equal rights for non-traditional couples.  Remember that this is similar to, but not synonymous with, Domestic Partnership (it is overall better than domestic partnership).  It is also important to point out that anyone entering a reciprocal beneficiary relationship needs to know that along with the rights there are also obligations and duties.  This relationship should be entered into only after carefully considering the legal, financial and emotional obligations that accompany reciprocal beneficiary status.  We strongly suggest that you consult with a lawyer familiar with the Reciprocal Beneficiary Act before heading down to the Department of Health to register. 

        As a free service to the community, the staff of Pride Insurance and Financial Services, Inc., is available to answer your general questions and walk you through the application process.  Call (808)566-0505 for assistance. 

PS from TR:  For more information regarding the status of the same-gender marriage court case, consult the web page https://members.tripod.com/~MPHAWAII, or email me at ramsey@math.hawaii.edu, or telephone Sue Reardon at (808) 942-3737.  Sue is the Director of Marriage Project - Hawaii.  For full texts of some legal documents and briefs, consult http://www.hawaiilawyer.com

For some of the local newspaper articles, consult  http://starbulletin.com/specials/samesex.html
And to get more complete coverage of local news articles, please contact  Martin Rice at lambda@aloha.net  Here's a partial list of useful web sites:

Here are some links that are valuable resources: https://members.tripod.com/~MPHAWAII/links.htm

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