Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, will soon offer a full suite of benefits to its employees’ domestic partners, including those of the same sex.

walmart

The change will take effect in all 50 states, independent of each state’s definition of what marriage, domestic partnership or civil union entails.

Wal-Mart is the single biggest U.S. employer outside of the federal government. More than half of its 1.3 million U.S. employees are on its health-care plans. The company said it does not know how many workers would use either of the new benefits.

Wal-Mart’s extension of health insurance to domestic partners comes after the U.S. Supreme Court in June forced the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages in states where it is legal. The Supreme Court also paved the way for same-sex marriage in California.

Employees’ domestic partners can be covered if they are legal spouses, not legally separated; or a domestic partner of same or opposite gender in an ongoing, exclusive relationship similar to marriage for at least 12 months with the intention to continue sharing a household indefinitely, he said.

Lucas Handy, an openly gay former Walmart associate from Fort Dodge, Iowa, says “it shocked me completely” when he heard of the change in Walmart’s benefits.

“The real issue with Walmart’s health care is that most of us are unable to afford the coverage,” said Handy, who said he made $8.95 an hour before being fired in July.

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