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Walmart recognizes same-sex partners

– Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will now allow workers’ same-sex partners to participate in its company health benefits, bringing policies at the largest private employer in the United States in line with those of most of the nation’s top businesses.

Full-time associates’ spouses and domestic partners will be eligible for coverage in medical, dental, vision, life, critical illness and accident plans, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company said in a postcard to employees last week that was provided to Bloomberg.

Wal-Mart, a frequent target of labor-rights groups pushing for better pay and benefits, said it made the change to have a consistent policy for all 50 states as some alter their definitions of marriage. Among Fortune 500 companies, 62 percent offer health-care benefits to same-sex partners, up from 34 percent in 2002, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

“Wal-Mart, as America’s largest employer, has sent a cultural signal that equality for LGBT people is the simplest of mainstream values and we look forward to continuing to work with them,” Chad Griffin, president of the Washington group, said Tuesday, referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Wal-Mart has 1.3 million full- and part-time U.S. employees, he said. More than half participate in health-care plans. A total of 1.1 million employees and family members are covered by the plans, he said.

The retailer’s definition of domestic partners includes same- or opposite-sex spouses, unmarried partners who live together for at least 12 months, aren’t married to anyone else and plan to continue sharing a household indefinitely, Hargrove said.

“We thought it was important to develop a single definition for all Wal-Mart associates in the U.S. to give them consistency in the various markets we operate in across the country,” Randy Hargrove, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said in telephone interview.

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