Family travel policies for gay partners?

Family travel policies for gay partners?

A tropical storm caused an eight-hour delay for a Singaporean woman, her toddler and her lesbian partner travelling by train from Seattle to San Francisco in the United States. Upon returning to Singapore, Ms Olivia Chiong and Ms Irene Chiong, who were legally married in California last December, submitted a claim to insurer MSIG Insurance Singapore.

They did so even though they were unsure if their marital status would be recognised by the insurer for the family travel policy which they had bought.

Singapore does not recognise gay marriage and the insurance policy's conditions said it applied only to the insured person and his or her "legal spouse and all their legal children".

Ms Olivia Chiong, who has a two-year-old biological daughter, said they were doubtful that their claim would go through.

"We thought there would be an issue as we weren't married in Singapore. We were prepared to write an appeal letter," said the operations manager.

But the travel delay claim was approved last month and they were paid $360 after attaching their marriage certificate from the State of California and the child's Singapore birth certificate.

An MSIG spokesman told The Sunday Times that the claim was paid because it was a "valid loss from an event" covered under the policy.

Six insurance companies contacted said claims by same-sex couples under their family travel policies were rare and gave varying responses on how they would deal with such cases.

A spokesman for ACE Insurance said the company abides by Singapore's matrimonial laws and allows only families comprising of two heterosexual adults who are legally married and their children to buy their annual family travel policies.

But adults do not have to be related for the single-trip family travel insurance policies. This means that its single-trip family insurance policy can cover any household, including those comprising same-sex couples, as long as the group includes a child related directly to one of the adults, such as in a parent-child relationship.

AIG Asia Pacific Insurance said the sexual orientation of its policyholders and insured persons "is not relevant during the application for insurance or claims assessment across all AIG products".

Insurance experts said it is up to the discretion of companies to award claims.

"Approval does not necessarily amount to endorsing the status of a couple. It could be a matter of cultivating business," said National University of Singapore associate law professor Poh Chu Chai.

He said there is no law restricting such a practice, though local companies might "stick to the norm", in the light of Singapore's laws which do not recognise gay unions.

Financial adviser Nicholas Lee said it might be easier for same-sex households to buy group travel policies which do not require individuals to be related.

Direct Asia Group's senior head of non-motor business Shawn Lim said the company recognises that "every family unit is different" and it would cover valid claims made by gay couples under its family travel policy. "We are happy to insure a single parent with five children or two dads or two mums with a child."

A spokesman for the General Insurance Association of Singapore said there are many travel policies in the market and advised consumers to "check their terms and conditions".

melodyz@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on March 22, 2015.
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