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Business

Gay employees’ rights rise after DOMA ruling

SAN FRANCISCO — Corporate support for gay and transgender rights is reaching workers in new corners of the country and economy six months after the US Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, according to a report from the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group.

The Human Rights Campaign found that more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies and 90 percent of all large employers it surveyed are offering health insurance and other spousal benefits to same-sex domestic partners of their employees.

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Walmart Stores Inc., Hormel Foods LLC, and Wendy’s International Inc. are among the corporations extending the benefits for the first time next year, the campaign said in a report to be issued Monday.

The group’s 12th annual Corporate Equality Index, which rates private companies on policies affecting gay and transgender workers and consumers, also found a record number of businesses adopting policies prohibiting discrimination against transgender workers and job applicants. They include 61 percent of the Fortune 500, up from 57 percent a year ago, and 86 percent of the 737 companies evaluated.

With same-sex marriages still outlawed in 34 states and without a federal law prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the ratings suggest that big businesses are helping to fill a gap in rights and recognition, said Deena Fidas, who directs the campaign’s Workplace Equality Program. That companies like the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain and discount retailer Dollar General, both based in Tennessee, started sponsoring gay rights events and working to raise their marks on the index is as much a bellwether as the 303 employers that received perfect scores, Fidas said.

‘‘There is no more succinct way to say we have arrived than the Walmart story,’’ she said. ‘‘The stores and restaurants that you find across strip malls and along highways in every pocket of the country and that are serving demographics that are more senior in age and more rural, cutting across what conventional wisdom would tell you, are places where you now find LGBT-inclusion.’’

Arkansas-based Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, announced in August that it would extend its health care benefits to its full-time US workers’ domestic partners, including those of the same sex, starting Jan. 1. The company said it was making the change not as a political or moral decision but because it wanted to have one uniform policy for all 50 states at a time when some states have their own definitions of domestic partnerships and civil unions.

Bi-Lo Holdings LLC, the South Carolina-based parent company of the Southern supermarket chains BI-LO and Winn-Dixie, started offering same-sex domestic partner benefits and health coverage to its workers in 2012.

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