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NYCLU Files Suit over Denial of Benefits to Lesbian Couple

(left to right) Joy Higgins, Elizabeth Higgins and Jeanne Kornowicz
(left to right) Joy Higgins, Elizabeth Higgins and Jeanne Kornowicz

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – A lawsuit has been filed against a local health insurance company for denying benefits to a lesbian couple from Cheektowaga.

Jeanne Kornowicz is a school psychologist for the Cheektowaga Central School district. She asked the district to provide health insurance benefits for her, a spouse and an infant daughter. While the district agreed to do so, its health insurance carrier BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York did not. And that has sparked a lawsuit.

Kornowicz says she and Joy Higgins were legally married in Canada in 2006. And according to John Curr, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, that makes them eligible for family benefits. Curr cited a recent court ruling in Monroe County that requires marriages performed out of state or abroad to be recognized in New York.

New York has not yet allowed gay people to marry here. But Governor David Paterson recently ordered all state agencies to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere.

Officials at BlueCross and BlueShield declined our request for an interview, saying it's their policy not to comment on pending litigation. But in a written statement, the health insurer did say the law is unclear as to its obligation in this situation. The company says it's awaiting guidance from the State Legislature and its regulatory agencies on how to proceed.

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