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State orders marital discounts for gay couples

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SANTA FE – A top New Mexico regulator has directed insurance companies to provide marital discounts to same-sex married couples in the state, giving a new victory to the gay marriage movement.

In an order released Wednesday by his office, state Insurance Superintendent John Franchini told insurance companies that failure to give such discounts would be viewed by his office as an unfair, and illegal, business practice.

“The superintendent expects all married couples to be treated equally and without prejudice by all persons engaged in the business of insurance in New Mexico,” Franchini wrote. “The practice of applying discounts for policy-holders who are married shall apply to all policy-holders, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.”

The discounts offered by insurers to married couples vary, but can be found in health care plans and homeowner policies, Franchini told the Journal.

In addition, some auto insurance companies offer discounted policies to newlyweds because they are seen as lower-risk drivers, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Franchini said his order came after two same-sex couples, who had been married in other states but live in New Mexico, complained to his office about being denied insurance discounts given to married heterosexual couples.

Although Franchini’s office did not see the problem as being widespread, it decided to issue the order to prevent future discrimination.

“From a constitutional standpoint, we realized these couples had the same rights to the discounts as any other married couples,” he said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Amber Royster, executive director of the Albuquerque-based Equality New Mexico, said the insurance order is the latest domino to fall in the ongoing push for equal rights for same-sex couples.

“It’s obviously great news,” Royster told the Journal. “It really comes down to being a matter of basic fairness.”

As in many other states, New Mexico has seen a flurry of recent action on the same-sex marriage issue.

The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments last month on whether to legalize gay marriage statewide but has not yet issued a ruling on the case.

However, more than 1,400 marriage licenses have already been issued to gay and lesbian couples in eight counties since August. That’s when Dona Aña County began issuing licenses to couples regardless of the spouse’s gender.

There are also an unknown number of same-sex couples who were married in other states but live in New Mexico.

Franchini’s order will apply to married same-sex couples who have been legally wed in New Mexico or any other state. Its scope will likely broaden if the state Supreme Court ultimately decides to sanction gay marriage.

The state Office of the Superintendent of Insurance is now independent, after state voters approved a 2012 constitutional amendment that separated it from the Public Regulation Commission.

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