Q. What does Washington’s Law Against Discrimination say about discrimination based on sexual orientation?
ESHB 2661 was signed by Governor Chris Gregoire on January 31, 2006. ESHB 2661 adds sexual orientation as a protected class in Washington State.
Sexual orientation nondiscrimination became effective and part of the Washington State Law Against Discrimination (RCW 49.60) on June 8, 2006.
The new law (RCW 49.60.040) says sexual orientation “means heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender expression or identity. As used in this definition, gender expression or identity means having or being perceived to have a gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior, or expression, whether or not that gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior, or expression is different from that traditionally associated with the sex assigned to that person at birth.”
Q. Does this law only protect gay people?
No. Everyone has a sexual orientation and everyone has a gender identity. Everyone will have equal protection under the law with regard to sexual orientation. Although gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals are statistically the most frequent targets of sexual orientation discrimination, the law protects heterosexual persons from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as well. For example, the law will protect a heterosexual person who is discriminated against in employment because he or she is heterosexual.
Q. Does Washington State condone homosexuality or same gender marriage?
No. In fact, the law (49.60.040) specifically says, “This chapter shall not be construed to endorse any specific belief, practice, behavior, or orientation. Inclusion of sexual orientation in this chapter shall not be construed to modify or supersede state law relating to marriage.”
Q. What is “gender expression or identity”?
Gender identity or expression is defined in state law as “having or being perceived as having a gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior, or expression, whether or not that gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior, or expression is different from that traditionally associated with the sex assigned to that person at birth.”
An interchangeable term you may hear is “transgender.” This term is a common umbrella one for a broad range of people who experience and/or express their gender differently from what most people expect – either in terms of expressing a gender that does not match the sex listed on one’s original birth certificate, or physically changing one’s sex (transsexuals). It also includes people who are cross-dressers or otherwise gender non-conforming. Gender identity and expression also includes males and females who do not express their gender in stereotypically masculine or feminine ways – e.g. through dress or behavior.
Applicable to insurers
Q. What is the responsibility of insurers with respect to sexual orientation?
Sexual orientation, which includes gender identity and expression, is not a permissible consideration in insurance. Insurers may not refuse to issue or cancel or decline to renew insurance coverage on the basis of sexual orientation, nor may insurers offer different amounts of benefits payable, terms, rates, conditions, or types of coverage on the basis of sexual orientation.
Q. May an insurer discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation where bona fide statistical differences in risk or exposure have been substantiated?
No. Although state law allows insurers to use actuarial distinctions in coverage on the basis of sex, marital status, or handicap, no such exception exists for sexual orientation. No discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is permissible.