POSTED: Sunday, September 29, 2013 - 5:00am
UPDATED: Sunday, September 29, 2013 - 5:04am
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — ExxonMobil, which has been bashed by gay rights advocacy groups for years over unfriendly employee policies, announced Friday it will start offering benefits to same-sex couples.
Beginning Oct. 1, ExxonMobil employees in legal same-sex marriages will be eligible to receive health insurance coverage for their spouses, the oil giant said in a statement.
The company's decision was less of a change of heart than it was a technical update stemming from this summer's Supreme Court decision to recognize same-sex marriages for federal purposes.
"The decision is consistent with the direction of most U.S. government agencies," ExxonMobil said in the statement. "We have made no change in the definition of eligibility for our U.S. benefit plans. Spousal eligibility in our U.S. benefit plans has been and continues to be governed by the federal definition of marriage and spouse."
ExxonMobil has long been criticized for having anti-LGBT policies. It currently has a lawsuit pending against it for discriminating against a lesbian applicant, and it received the lowest "corporate equality" score of any U.S. company in last year's Human Rights Campaign rankings.
The announcement was therefore welcomed by gay rights groups.
"After years of stubbornly refusing, we commend Exxon for joining the majority of the Fortune 500 business leaders that already treat gay and lesbian married couples equally under employee benefit plans," Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said in a statement. "It's a shame Exxon waited until after the Labor Department issued official guidance explaining that their old policy does not comply with American law, and now it's time to move forward."
A growing number of companies have been updating their policies to become more LGBT-friendly. This summer, Walmart announced it will offer benefits to same-sex and domestic partners. As of the beginning of this year, 89 percent of U.S. companies provide health benefits to same-sex couples, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
But other companies continue to get bad press from the LGBT community. Just Thursday, pasta maker Barilla came under fire for comments its CEO made about refusing to feature same-sex couples in the company's commercials. The remarks sparked a firestorm on Twitter and led to a boycott of the company's products.