Publix relents, offers gay marriage benefits

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Publix, the Florida-based grocer with a sizable presence in Atlanta, finally recognized same-sex marriage on Tuesday, announcing that it will expand its health benefits to include legally married gay employees.

That's a big switch for the company, which last year dismissed criticism that it doesn't treat its LGBT employees fairly and offered as its defense that same-sex marriage wasn't legal in the six states where it operates.

With gay marriage coming to Florida as soon as next week, Publix relented.

Publix is expanding spouse coverage effective Jan. 1, 2015, to associates who are married in any state where same-sex marriages are legal, regardless of the associates' state of residence. Regardless of how long ago they were legally married, associates who are affected by this change can elect to enroll their legal same-sex spouses during a special enrollment period Jan. 1 – 30, 2015.

The company now tells South Florida Gay News that it's just good business to better care for its LGBT employees. Duh. The expanded benefits include spousal coverage for its health, dental and vision programs and will take effect 30 days after the enrollment period closes.

“It's good business for us to offer benefits to all employees, not just those in the states that recognize it,” said Maria Brouse, director of media relations at Publix.

Publix employs more than 168,000 people across 1,095 stores, including 182 in Georgia. The company also has stores in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, tells the Miami Herald that the move is the right step for the “iconic brand.”

“This is huge news,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, a leading statewide LGBT-rights groups. “Publix is an iconic brand as associated with Florida as beaches and sunshine. This step recognizes that marriage is coming and acknowledges the impossibility of maintaining separate and unequal laws in some parts of our state and nation.

Marriage aside, the grocer still can't be bothered to take part in HRC's Corporate Equality Index, which ranks companies on LGBT issues. HRC gave the company a zero on its latest survey. Kroger and Walmart, two large Publix competitors in metro Atlanta, scored an 85 and 90 on the HRC report. Whole Foods notched a 75.

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