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Domestic partner benefits policies in north Texas.


A challenge facing managers and human resource professionals is determining whether to expand benefits, especially health insurance, beyond employees to other eligible dependents.

Immediate family members such as the spouse and/or dependent children of employees are commonly eligible for company sponsored benefits. Among larger companies, unmarried same-sex or opposite-sex domestic partners are more frequently being included as eligible for coverage under employee benefit plans. Complicating the task of determining benefits eligible dependents are many differences between federal and state laws and local ordinances concerning domestic partner protections. While race and gender issues are generally well-understood because they are consistent at federal and state levels, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered Americans' (GLBT) non-discrimination protection varies from state to state, and at the federal level. This inconsistency can bring confusion for managers, employees, and HR professionals.

According to Rosenberg (2009), there are business reasons to provide domestic partner benefits. Such benefits can provide a tool to keep organizations competitive as they seek to recruit and retain employees. With an increasingly diverse pool of employees and customers, private sector organizations and more levels of government have recognized the need to make the workplace welcoming and safe for all employees in order to attract and retain quality employees. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin has written, "In the eyes of the law, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans are not yet equal to their fellow citizens, and simply put, this cannot stand. ... The private sector and even many local governments are well ahead of the federal government in this regard." (Baldwin, p. 45) Indeed, as Davison and Rouse (2004, p. 23) noted, "... the fact that corporate America is choosing to recognize same-sex couples, despite their lack of legal recognition, is noticeable, puzzling, and promising."

For most companies, the cost of adding domestic partner benefits is quite low, typically less than 2% of total benefit costs, according a report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (McDonnell, 2009). Studies have also shown that enrollment for benefits by eligible same-sex domestic partners tends to be lower, about 1 percent, than for eligible opposite-sex domestic partners, about 67 percent.

On the other hand, there is resistance to providing the same benefits to same-sex couples as to traditionally married couples. Coleman (2006, p. 1) states that, "most of the opposition stems from religious objections to government recognition of adult relationships other than marriage." According to the Minnesota Family Council (2005), homosexual domestic partner benefits requirements are nearly identical to the qualifications for traditional marriage. "State (Minnesota) law requires a married person to financially support his or her spouse. It's reasonable for the state to provide health benefits to married spouses and their children because the employee has a legal duty to care for these persons financially. A homosexual domestic partner, however, has no such legal duty. Granting homosexual employees these domestic partner benefits means they would receive a special benefit. They would receive benefits from the government without any legal responsibility to care for their partners." (p. 1).

However, to claim that GLBT couples have no legal responsibilities when they are denied legal recognition of their relationships, and therefore don't deserve the same pay and benefits as married employees, is a specious argument based on circular reasoning. Whether legally recognized or not, GLBT couples and families have the same need for health care and benefits as married couples and families.

According to Embree (2000), there are business reasons against implementing domestic partner benefits. The term "domestic partner" is ambiguous. For example, some domestic partners might be the workers' roommates or extended family members. The scope of any domestic-partner benefit may be dependent on how a company defines a domestic partner. Lack of understanding, cost factors, and ambiguous terms may lead to complications for an organization.

To ascertain policies affecting GLBT employees, this paper describes survey results from HR professionals regarding their organization's nondiscrimination policies covering GLBT employees, and the extent to which GLBT employees have access to the same benefits as heterosexual employees. North Texas is the locale featured in the survey.

According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) (2010b), national surveys of the Fortune 500 have shown a steady increase in the number of companies including sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies, and offering benefits to domestic partners of GLBT employees. By 2006, a majority of the Fortune 500 largest U.S. corporations provided health insurance for domestic partners of employees. By 2009, over 80 percent of Fortune 100 companies had such benefits. To what extent are those trends reflected in local business communities? This study describes survey results about nondiscrimination clauses and the availability of company sponsored benefits for employees and their significant others from eight north Texas cities. In doing so, it also provides a literature review of GLBT benefits research.


A review of academic business journals from 2000 to present reveals only a small number of employment-related studies dealing with GLBT employees' issues (about 20). Even the human resource management area has been relatively silent on how to cope with the clash between fairness initiatives in the workplace for GLBT employees, and anti-gay state laws and amendments limiting benefits traditionally available only to opposite-sex spouses of employees.

In the private sector, the number of businesses that pursue inclusive policies to attract and retain GLBT employees continues to grow. According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's (2007) State of the Workplace 2006-2007 report, 88% of Fortune 500 corporations include sexual orientation in their companies' nondiscrimination policies, 25% include gender identity, and 53% provide same-sex couples with benefits similar to those available to married couples.

Contrary to business trends, federal law allows for GLBT people to be fired, thrown out of the military, denied housing and public assistance and accommodations because a person is gay, or perceived to be gay, and treats people in committed same-sex relationships as if they were unrelated roommates. The Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment doesn't necessarily mean equal protection if you are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgendered. Although the 14th Amendment was initially passed with race in mind, the list of protected classes has expanded to include color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status of one's parents, but not sexual orientation or gender identity (Yoshino & Kavey, 2007).

Attempts to add "sexual orientation" to the protected classes in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act go back to 1974 but not until June 2008 did the Society for Human Resource Management give support to the proposed Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) (Harris, 2008). First introduced in its current form in 1994, the ENDA came within two votes of passing the Senate in 1996. The ENDA continues to gather co-sponsors in the House and Senate but is not yet law (National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, 2009).

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996 restricts marriage to one man and one woman, and defines "spouse" as referring "only to a person of opposite sex who is a husband or wife" thereby excluding same-sex couples. A 2004 report by the General Accounting Office found 1,138 federal "benefits, rights, and privileges" tied to marital status, all denied to same-sex couples under DOMA (US General Accounting Office, 2007).

Today, 21 states and the District of Columbia have state-level laws preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in work, housing, and public assistance (HRC, 2010d). 12 of those states and the District of Columbia also prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. An additional 10 states have executive orders or personnel regulations prohibiting discrimination against public employees on the basis of sexual orientation. Yet, at the other end of the spectrum, 29 states have passed constitutional amendments barring gay marriages, or civil unions, much like DOMA, that specifically deny equal protection of the law to same-sex couples. An additional 12 states have laws restricting "marriage" to one man and one woman, thereby excluding same-sex couples.

Perhaps even more confusing though, are the 12 states that have both, laws or public employee policy against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and laws or amendments that explicitly discriminate against same-sex couples in marriage (or civil unions, or domestic partnerships) (HRC, 2010e). Non-discrimination evidently is not an absolute in many people's mind. California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington all have laws or amendments restricting marriage to one man and one woman, yet have created parallel institutions of civil unions or domestic partnerships that extend most or all of the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples.

Companies that offer health insurance and other benefits to domestic partners of employees, whether straight or gay, are faced with the dilemma of the tax consequences. While IRS code specifically exempts from income the value of insurance and benefits to married spouses and dependents, employees with domestic partners must include the fair market value of the coverage as income and pay tax on it. "According to a December 2007 report by the Center for American Progress and the Williams Institute, employees with partner health benefits now pay on average $1,069 per year more in taxes than would a married employee with the same coverage" unless the domestic partner qualifies as a dependent (HRC, 2008). Even in states that recognize same-sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partners, and have state tax equity on benefits, federal taxes have to be paid. Some companies attempt parity by paying the amount of the additional taxes to employees, while others let employees cover the tax liability.

Provisions for uniform tax treatment of employer provided health benefits were included the Affordable Health Care for America Act legislation of 2009 (H.R.3962), however they were not part of the final Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, nor the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 that President Obama signed into law (Richards, 2010).


Survey and Procedures

Human resource (HR) professionals in northern Texas received an eight question survey.

The questions asked about their companies' non-discrimination policies, the protected classes included in the policy, and the extent to which the non-discrimination policy applied to access to benefits for partners of employees.

The first question asked respondents if their company had a non-discrimination policy. If yes, the next question asked for identification of the groups/protected classes covered, followed by a question about the employment practices to which the non-discrimination policy applied.

Next respondents were asked to identify from a list the benefits available to married spouses of employees, benefits available to unmarried opposite-sex domestic partners of employees, and unmarried same-sex domestic partners of employees.

The last two questions focused on companies that offered domestic partner benefits to employees. Respondents were asked what proof of the relationship was required in order to qualify for domestic partner benefits, and then how the company treated the tax liability for domestic partner benefits.

Additionally, organizational demographic variables were collected. "Don't know" and "Other, please explain" options were included for questions, where appropriate. In the tables, where response options included "Mark all that apply," data were dummy coded and "Don't know" responses were tallied as a separate variable of the question. Where questions asked for a single response from a list of options, "Don't know" and "No response" were combined.


Surveys were distributed in April and May 2008 to human resource professionals in eight chapter meetings of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM): Abilene, Arlington, Brownwood, Fort Worth, Lubbock, Midland/Odessa, San Angelo, and Stephenville, Texas.

Each of the SHRM chapters contributed completed surveys, ranging from six in Stephenville to 40 from Lubbock, for a total sample of 150 completed surveys. The number of respondents from each chapter meeting is shown in Table 1.

At each chapter meeting, one of this study's authors introduced the survey to the group.

The survey was provided to each attendee at their tables. They could either respond to the survey during the meeting or fax/e-mail their responses after the meeting.

The Texas sample of HR professionals is a convenience sample to some extent. An advantage of the sample is that professionals from large cities are included along with smaller cities such as Midland/Odessa. A wide variety of HR professionals can be contacted through SHRM chapter meetings. A disadvantage is that it is a Texas-only sample and may not represent the United States as a whole in terms of state law and culture.



In Table 1, demographic information regarding the size of organizations, respondents' job titles, and distribution of completed surveys from the various SHRM chapters are listed.

About 65% of respondents' companies had more than 100 employees. The surveys sampled a wide-spread section of north central Texas, with the largest concentration of responses, 26.7%, coming from the Lubbock area. Just over half of the sample (79 responses, 52.7%) came from five industries: banking/financial services (8.0%), education (10.7%), government (10.0%), healthcare (10.7%), and manufacturing (13.3%). About 53% of respondents are human resource managers or specialists.

Protected Classes

Table 2 summarizes the information on company non-discrimination policies. 141 of the respondents' organizations have non-discrimination policies, with 134 including the protected classes mandated by federal law. Specific to GLBT employees, 46 include sexual orientation, and 28 include gender identity in their policies. Marital status is included in 37 policies. In addition to the protected classes defined by federal law, Texas law includes non-discrimination on the basis of political affiliation and public financial assistance. In the "Other" category, two respondents claimed their employers were not EEO employers, two were religious organizations able to discriminate on the basis of religion, one respondent's company policy varied state by state, while one company's policy included the protected classes in California law, and another included the classes found in Minnesota law.

The last three examples from the preceding paragraph highlight part of the managerial dilemma. A policy of minimal compliance that adheres to federal protected classes, and each individual state's requirements, can result in potentially 50 different lists of protected classes for companies doing business across states. On the other hand, setting policy broadly to comply with the most inclusive definition of protected classes, such as California, may result in higher benefit costs, and may require more training of personnel to assure compliance and prevent discrimination claims.

Employment Practices

About 90% of the respondents stated that their non-discrimination policy applied to hiring decisions, with about 80% being used in layoff/termination decisions, promotions, and pay.

75% said the non-discrimination policy applied to benefits, and about 67% applied to paid leave and Family Medical Leave benefits. Finally, about 49% said the non-discrimination policy applied to the use of other company facilities.

Non-discrimination in Benefits

It is a quirk of the USA system that social goods, such as health insurance and retirement benefits, are a function of one's employment, not citizenship as is the case in most industrialized nations. Reflecting that practice, only 12 of the respondents' companies didn't offer insurance benefits to spouses (recall that "spouse" is defined by DOMA as a married individual of the opposite sex). Of the 137 respondents' companies, 91.3%, offer health/medical insurance for spouses of employees. Contrast that with the 15 companies that offer health/medical insurance for opposite-sex domestic partners of employees, and 18 companies that offer health/medical insurance for same-sex domestic partners of employees. Married spouses also have greater availability of life insurance, dental or vision insurance, retirement benefits, employee discounts, access to Employee Assistance Programs, and other employer provided benefits (see Table 3).

By limiting access to group insurance to marital status, many employees are put at a disadvantage in caring for their significant others.

While there are "no federal or state law(s) prohibiting private employers from extending health insurance and most other spousal benefits to same-sex spouses" (Luther, 2009, p.1), employers in some states actually may find themselves required to extend equal access to benefits. Luther (2009) notes that state-regulated insurance plans in states that recognize same-sex marriage require employers to extend the same benefits to same-sex couples as they do to opposite-sex couples. Those states include Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia that grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Although Maryland and New York don't license same-sex marriages, they do give full recognition to same-sex marriages from other states, including the same equal rights, benefits and responsibilities as for opposite-sex marriages. Additionally, equivalent state-level spousal rights for same-sex couples in domestic partnerships or civil unions are required in California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington (HRC, 2010c).

Documentation Requirements for Domestic Partners

While it is rare for companies to require a copy of a marriage license for employees with opposite-sex partners, some form of affidavit or documentation is typically required for domestic partners of employees (same-sex or opposite-sex) to gain access to benefits. Documentation that companies may use include a marriage license, a civil union license, registration of a domestic partnership from a state, county, or city where available, or instituting a company policy with an affidavit completed and signed by the employee as proof of the domestic partnership.

Table 4 shows the various forms of proof accepted by companies in the survey. Some companies accept multiple types of documentation.

Several respondents noted that although their company doesn't officially offer benefits to unmarried same- or opposite-sex partners of employees, they do recognize opposite-sex relationships that meet the standards for "common-law" marriage, known as Informal Marriage in Texas. Couples can prove that they are informally married by either filing a Declaration of Informal Marriage with the County Clerk's office, or by meeting three conditions: 1) The couple agrees that they are married; 2) they live in Texas; and 3) they "hold out" or present themselves as married such as introducing each other as husband or wife, filing joint tax returns, or listing each other as spouses on insurance forms or other documents (Texas Department of State Health Services, 2009). Although only nine states and the District of Columbia grant common-law marriages, because of the "Full Faith and Credit" clause of the US Constitution, such marriages are recognized as valid in all 50 states, if legal in the state where contracted (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2009). Same-sex couples are not accorded the same recognition for either formal or informal marriages because DOMA sec. 1738C says that no State or territory of the US is required to recognize "a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, ..." (, 2009).

At the time of this writing, in the state of Texas only Travis County, which includes the city of Austin, has domestic partner registration and it is open to both opposite- and same-sex partners (HRC, 2010a). Also, the cities of Austin, and El Paso, TX both provide health care benefits to domestic partners of city employees. (City of El Paso, 2009; City of Austin, 2008).


Even in Texas, a state whose state laws offer few protections for GLBT individuals, some organizations have considered same-sex couple policies and have mentioned sexual orientation in their policies in general. Having such policies should be weighed in terms of legal, ethical, religious, political, and profit considerations.

Organizations that incorporate GLBT policies should consider how to show proof of same-sex domestic relationships. The most common proof is a company affidavit signed by both partners. Organizations should also consider the complications associated with having plants or divisions in various states due to the varied state laws and cultural norms.

Because most states are not required to recognize same-sex marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships from other states, employees and companies have found themselves in murky situations. If a company only accepts government issued recognitions of opposite- or same-sex marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships, what happens when employees are transferred to states or cities that don't offer or recognize such relationships? Konica Minolta Business Solutions of New Jersey requires employees to formally register their same-sex or opposite-sex domestic partnerships with the state for partners to be eligible for benefits. But in two cases in 2008, partners of employees lost their benefits when transferred to states that didn't recognize domestic partnerships (Bonner, 2008). Although one may disagree with the notion of taking benefits away from an employee because of a company sponsored transfer, Konica Minolta was consistent in its treatment of the individuals involved. One of the couples had opposite-sex domestic partners, while the other couple had same-sex partners, yet both were subject to the same treatment, and lost domestic partner benefits (Ryan, 2008).


The Texas sample has obvious limitations in generalizing the results to the rest of the United States. As pointed out earlier, Texas laws have characteristics that are different from many other states. The differences can have a direct impact on organizational policies. Texas culture also can have a dramatic impact. It has been a "Red State" voting for Republican presidential candidates who tend to be opposed to increasing GLBT rights due to religious, political, cultural or other reasons. It is part of the South that tends to be more opposed to issues such as civil unions, gay marriage, and gay adoption more than other regions of the country (Pew Forum, 2006).

The Texas sample showed that in the absence of state law mandates, just over 30% of the respondents' companies provided basic job protection rights to GLBT employees, yet only 12% or less extended access to benefits to unmarried same-sex, or opposite-sex partners of employees on par with married employees. It would have been valuable to share differences in the incorporation of GLBT supportive policies by business structure, number of people employed at one location, total employees employed by the parent company, and location of the company, but a low sample size reduces the chance of statistically significant and meaningful results.


Future research featuring significantly larger sample sizes would be able to differentiate the types of organizations that have GLBT-friendly policies. Major categories of organizations that can be differentiated could involve the major categories in this paper such as business structure, number of people employed, and company location. Some other categories could include political/religious persuasion of policy makers, type of industry, number of GLBT workers in each company, profit/nonprofit/government status, and company history of protected class protection.

Surveys of organizations in other states would be very useful because of their unique laws. Whereas states such as Massachusetts have fairly liberal legislation concerning the rights of gays and lesbians, other states such as Idaho tend to be much more conservative. In the absence of unifying federal legislation, the impact of legislation on GLBT employee rights needs to be investigated on a state by state basis.

If organizations provide a more inclusive definition of protected classes, would the cost of business go up? Bidstrup (2008) points out that the effect of business costs for offering more benefits due to same-sex couples rarely goes up by more than 1.5%. Similar findings are reported by McConnell (2009). This cost, in Bidstrup's opinion is more than offset by the organization as being seen as being progressive for offering these benefits--thereby making its stock more attractive to socially progressive mutual funds, and rights-conscious pension funds.

This is one reason why many Fortune 500 corporations offer such benefits. Also, attracting and retaining a greater percentage of qualified individuals might be a further benefit. Accordingly, future research should investigate the direct costs of adding same-sex benefits and the potential financial benefits.

Finally, future research should investigate why organizations have or have not incorporated GLBT-friendly policies. State and federal laws have been briefly mentioned in the present paper. Other reasons for including such policies may include a more diverse workforce, more productivity, more qualified individuals, higher stock values, more progressive perceptions of the organization, and various moral, religious, and political viewpoints. Some reasons for not including such policies might include the belief that supporting GLBT lifestyles is inappropriate, additional costs associated with supporting more employees, perception that the organization is too progressive, and various moral, religious, and political viewpoints.


The survey of 150 members of the northern Texas Society for Human Resource Management members showed that policies for GLBT individuals were not common. Only thirty percent of respondents reported sexual orientation mentioned somewhere in organizational policies. About twelve percent reported health/medical insurance for same-sex domestic partners.

The most common way for domestic partners to prove their partnerships was to provide company affidavits signed by both partners. Texas organizations should weigh their pocketbooks, politics, ethics, religious convictions, and laws when considering GLBT-friendly policies. Future research should analyze other states to see how different state laws and cultures affect organizational GLBT policies. Future research also should compare GLBT policies to the type of organization involved.


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James E. Wanek

Gundars Kaupins

Boise State University

Malcolm Coco

Abilene Christian University

James E. Wanek (Ph.D., Minnesota) is a professor of management at Boise State University. His publications include articles on pre-employment integrity testing, and other human resource management topics. He teaches graduate and undergraduate human resource management courses in traditional and online formats.

Gundars (Gundy) Kaupins (Ph.D, Iowa) is a department chair, professor of management and John Elorriaga Fellow at Boise State University. He is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). He teaches human resource management. His publications include over 200 articles in job evaluation, training and development, Baltic studies, and human resource ethics.

Malcolm Coco (DPA, Nova Southeastern) is a professor of management at Abilene Christian University. He also directs the business internship program. Dr. Coco is the author of over 30 survey-based articles on management and human resources.
Table 1

Demographic Information (N=150)

                                        Frequency   Percentage

Business Structure

A single location                          36          24.0
Multiple locations, local presence         34          23.3
Multiple locations, N. Central Texas       14          9.3
Multiple locations throughout Texas        20          13.3
Division of national/international         46          30.7

Number of People Employed at this Location

1-100 employees                            52          34.7
101-500 employees                          51          34.0
501-1000 employees                         19          12.7
1001-2000 employees                         9          6.0
2001+ employees                            13          8.7
Don't know/missing                          6          4.0

Total Employees for Parent Company and this Location

1-100 employees                            30          20.0
101-500 employees                          32          21.3
501-1000 employees                         13          8.7
1001-5000 employees                        16          10.7
5001-10,000 employees                      10          6.7
10,001+ employees                          33          22.0
Don't know/missing                         16          10.7

Job Title

Manager                                    19          12.7
Human Resource Specialist                  26          17.3
Human Resources Manager/Director           54          36.0
Vice President of Human Resources           6          4.0
Other                                      36          24.0
Missing                                     9          6.0

Location of SHRM Meeting

Abilene                                    27          18.0
Arlington                                  15          10.0
Brownwood                                   8          5.3
Fort Worth                                 28          18.7
Lubbock                                    40          26.7
Midland                                    15          10.0
San Angelo                                 11          7.3
Stephenville                                6          4.0

Table 2

Protected Class Policies

Characteristic                Frequency %

Does your organization have its own employment
non-discrimination policy?

Yes                           141   94.0
No                              6    4.0
Don't know                      3    2.0

Protected classes included in the policy
(check all that apply):

As mandated by Federal laws   134   89.3
Sexual orientation             46   30.7
Gender identity                28   18.7
Marital status                 37   24.7
Public assistance              13    8.7
As mandated by Texas law        5    3.3
Other                           7    4.7
Don't know                      5    3.3

Table 3

Benefits for Employees' Significant Other (N=150)

Benefits Offered            Spouses        Opposite-sex
to:                                          Domestic

Type of Benefit       Frequency    %     Frequency    %

None                     12        8.0      122      81.3
Health/Medical           137      91.3      15       10.0
Life Insurance           106      70.7      12       8.0
Dental or Vision         130      86.7      14       9.3
Retirement               16       10.7       3       2.0
Employee Discounts       37       24.7       4       2.7
Employee Assistance      63       42.0       9       6.0
Other Employer           21       14.0       1       0.7
Don't Know                2       1.3       11       7.3

Benefits Offered       Same-sex Domestic
to:                         Partner

Type of Benefit       Frequency    %

None                     118      78.7
Health/Medical           18       12.0
Life Insurance           13       8.7
Dental or Vision         16       10.7
Retirement                3       2.0
Employee Discounts        6       4.0
Employee Assistance      10       6.7
Other Employer            5       3.3
Don't Know               10       6.7

Table 4

Documentation of Domestic Partnership

Documentation Examples                           Frequency   %

No benefits coverage to domestic partners             110   73.3
No documentation required                               2    1.3
Employee's signature                                    4    2.7
A company affidavit signed by both partners            14    9.3
Copies of Receipts of Financial                         5    3.3
Proof of local or state domestic partnership            6    4.0
Proof of state or civil union or marriage              10    6.7
Proof of marriage from any other country                3    2.0
Other (common-law marriage-opposite-sex only)           4    2.7
Don't know/blank                                       12    8.0
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Author:Wanek, James E.; Kaupins, Gundars; Coco, Malcolm
Publication:International Journal of Business and Public Administration (IJBPA)
Geographic Code:1U7TX
Date:Dec 22, 2011
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