What do IBM, Harley Davidson, Charles Schwab, Coors Brewing, Dow Chemical, Walt Disney, Microsoft, Time Warner, and several hundred other American companies have in common? They all extend medical benefits to same-sex couples. In an effort to recruit the best talent in their competitive industries, they offer the same compensation to people doing the same work. Fairness and equity are two values we strongly support, and we applaud Corporate America for its courage in extending them to its entire community. IBM gets special credit. It decided to extend benefits to same-sex couples just as Congress was defeating a bill prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Cost is a major concern for companies extending benefits to gay partners. They fear higher medical expenses because of AIDS. So far, it hasn't turned out that way. The lifetime cost of caring for someone with HIV comes to about $119,000 per patient, according to Hewitt Associates, a consulting firm. That is offset by gay partners having far fewer babies, which is one of the most costly health-care expenses.

In fact, the sign-up rate for same-sex benefits is extremely low--only 1% to 2% of all potential beneficiaries. Most same-sex couples have dual incomes and each has his or her own insurance. Then there are those who do not wish to identify themselves, regardless of available benefits.

Certainly there are problems. How does one establish that two people are a couple without a marriage certificate? Some institutions accept a Certificate of Domestic Partnership, which certifies that two people of the same sex share bank accounts, rent, and credit cards. Others accept a notarized statement attesting to joint ownership and other information.

Corporate America is doing the right thing in being fair and equitable to all of its workforce. It's time for Washington to get with the program.

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