A growing number of states are adopting laws that give couples in domestic partnerships and civil unions many of the same rights as married couples.
Now car insurance companies are responding to these laws by offering new discounts to unmarried heterosexual, gay and lesbian couples who enter into legally recognized relationships.
Civil unions and domestic partnerships are similar; some states – such as California, Washington and Oregon – use the term domestic partnership, while other states generally prefer the term civil union. The legal relationships are an alternative to marriage in states that don’t issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
All companies must follow state laws for how to treat domestic partnerships or civil unions. But some insurance companies are courting the market more than others by getting the word out about discounts.
Esurance recently announced that it is offering new savings to couples who enter into civil unions in Illinois in light of the state's recent passage of the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. The law gives couples in civil unions many of the rights already afforded to married people.
Insurance companies give discounts to married couples because claims histories show people who are married tend to be at lower risk for filing claims than single people.
The auto insurance discount could be 10 percent or more, but varies depending on a variety of other factors, such as driving record, accident history and vehicle make and model, Esurance says.
In addition to Illinois, Esurance also offers car insurance savings for domestic partners in California, Oregon and Washington -- states where couples in registered domestic partnerships also have many of the same rights as married couples. The company also is looking at expanding the discount to other states, Eric Madia, the company's director of product and actuarial management, says. Esurance offers direct-to-consumer car insurance in 30 states.
Esurance was among the first insurers to offer discounts on car insurance for domestic partners who are on the same policy, Madia says. It began offering the discount in June 2004 in California, several months before the California Insurance Equality Act went into effect in January 2005. The law prohibits insurance companies from issuing policies that treat registered domestic partners and married spouses differently.
New Esurance customers can get the discount by telling the company about their domestic partnership or civil union when asked about their marital status, , Madia says. Current customers who qualify can log in to their Esurance accounts or call the company to change their marital status to civil union or domestic partnership to get a better rate.
The company may ask for a copy of the completed certificate of civil union or domestic partnership for proof.
Esurance is among several car insurance companies making an effort to reach out to gay and lesbian customers.
The travel and alcohol beverage industries began reaching out to the communities two decades ago and some companies have developed incredible customer loyalty, says David Paisley, research director of Community Marketing Inc., a San Francisco-based marketing company that's helped companies connect with gay and lesbian communities since 1992. Gay and lesbian customers make up at least 10 percent of the consumer market, according to Community Marketing.
"Insurance companies are becoming more active," Paisley says. Allstate, Prudential and MetLife have all done consumer outreach, he says, and his firm is now doing research for a couple of insurance companies.
It takes more than advertising to court customers.
"All the research shows that the first thing any company in any industry needs to do is get their own house in order," Paisley says. "If you start advertising to the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] communities and don't have the right personnel policies in place, it can actually become a negative."
Seeing the hypocrisy, Paisley says, disgruntled employees may "out" employers whose cultures are unfriendly to gay and lesbian employees.
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