When does an information request become discriminatory?

By | 2010/07/18

Hanlon’s Razor states:

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

I’ve been reminding myself of Hanlon’s Razor quite a bit over the last month or so – every time I think of the recent story of a friend who applied for life insurance with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia – or their insurance division, CommInsure.

I must admit though, I’m seriously struggling to see this in the light of Hanlon’s Razor.

In response to indicating that he was gay (and noting on the initial application forms that he had been with his current partner for close to two decades), the CBA sent out a nurse to take blood samples, and left him with an egregiously insulting form that he had to fill out in order to complete his life insurance application.

What leaves me feeling sick from this is the simple fact that had someone else, newly married, applied for life insurance at the same time, I’d guarantee they wouldn’t have been sent such a probing and repulsive set of questions.

Why do I think these questions wouldn’t have been asked of a newly married couple? Because the entire form is specially designed to ask highly personal questions of gay men. Let’s look at the form that was sent out:

CBA Life Insurance Application for Gay Men, Part 1

CBA Life Insurance Application for Gay Men, Part 1

CBA Life Insurance Application for Gay Men, Part 2

CBA Life Insurance Application for Gay Men, Part 2

CBA Life Insurance Application for Gay Men, Part 3

CBA Life Insurance Application for Gay Men, Part 3

CBA Life Insurance Application for Gay Men, Part 4

CBA Life Insurance Application for Gay Men, Part 4

So, let’s run through these questions:

1. Have you EVER or do you INTEND to be tested or receive medical advice, counseling or treatment in conjunction with:
a. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)?
b. AIDS (HIV) Antibodies?
c. Any sexually transmitted disease?
d. Hepatitis B or C virus infection?

2. If you have previously been tested for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) or (HIV) Antibodies or Hepatitis B or C please give the details and results of these.

3. Have you ever suffered from unintentional weight loss, persistent night sweats, persistent fever, persistent diarrhoea or persistent swollen glands?

4. Have you ever:
a. worked as, or engaged in sexual activity with a prostitute?
b. injected yourself or been injected with a drug which was not prescribed for yourself by a registered medical practitioner?
c. Have you had sexual contact with any person who you have reason to believe is HIV positive?

If you have answered ‘Yes’ to any of the questions 1, 2, 3 or 4 above, please provide details that may be relevant. These details include frequency, date(s) and the reason why you had, for example, a test or medical consultation and the full name and address of the doctor concerned.

5. Have you, or do you participate in male to male anal sexual intercourse?

If ‘Yes’:

Please provide the following additional information:

a. Advise details of frequency.

b. How may sexual partners have you had in the last 5 years?

c. How many sexual partners have you had in the last 3 years?

d. How many sexual partners have you had in the last 12 months?

e. Do you and your partner(s) use condoms? [ _ ] Never [ _ ] Sometimes [ _ ] Always

f. If you answer “Never” or “Sometimes” but still consider you practice safe sex, please explain why?

6. Please provide any additional information which may help assess your coverage.

By the end of the questionnaire I was half expecting to see a final check-box along the lines of:

I understand that by enrolling for this life insurance, I will notify the CBA in writing and via telephone at least three (3) working days in advance of any situation where I have sex.

[Edit, since I’ve managed to confuse some people – that clause wasn’t in the form. What I’m saying is I’m surprised it wasn’t, given all the other questions…]

Now some might want to argue that these are “reasonable” questions, but they’re not reasonable if they’re not asked of every applicant:

  • None of the sexual diseases named are exclusively the province of gay men.
  • There’s no rule book that says “if you’re gay, you HAVE to have sex with prostitutes”.
  • Similarly, there’s no rule book that says “if you’re gay, you HAVE to shoot up with illegal drugs”.
  • Gay men are not the only people who have unsafe sex. If we look at the definition of “unsafe sex”, every married couple who doesn’t use condoms also practice “unsafe sex”.

Since the form is explicitly designed for use by gay male applicants, one could easily believe that it’s a discriminatory process. I.e., an information request becomes discriminatory when the information could be requested of a broader selection of the population than is implied required by the nature of the request.

If you wonder why I rail against entrenched bigotry against the GBLT population, and why I say that until partnerships are named the name and treated the same, the people won’t be treated the same, this is a prime example. Every single one of the questions in this form are equally applicable to any sexually active person, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

But not, it seems, if you’re applying for life insurance with Australia’s biggest bank.

7 thoughts on “When does an information request become discriminatory?

  1. Carolyn

    Dear Preston,
    Yes, absolutely , undoubtedly and disgustingly discriminatory. Isn’t there a law against this?

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  3. Leonie Beaulieu

    Just reading the above put a knot in my stomach. I imagined how I would feel if I were asked those questions about myself and my partner. How often do we have sex? Do we use condoms? Do we still consider that we practice safe sex?
    No one, gay or straight should be required to divulge personal sexual details about their relationships.
    Aids doesn’t discriminate, so why does the Commonwealth Bank?
    Thank you for sharing , and I hope you found a different insurer.

  4. Stefano

    Absolutely an intrusion upon your privacy. Asking whether or not you protect yourself (or already are HIV+) should have been MORE than enough personal information. This is like the Spanish Inquisition of gay sex.

    I can’t see them asking these questions of heterosexual couples. Terrible, terrible, terrible. Shame on them and I hope your business was sent elsewhere.

  5. Stefano

    By the way, doesn’t the title of the form crack you up? What’s “confidential” about spilling your guts in writing? Half of these questions are total nonsense. Walking down the street is more hazardous to your health than monogamous sex, regardless of with whom you’re doing it.

    It’s so hard not to be angered by this. As a 21-year-old in the US, I have that inherent feeling to right wrongs, and that just leads to frustration deep within me whenever I see or hear of things like this… but we can’t fight fire with fire. Instead, we just lay like dead dogs on the side of the road and hope that the haters change their minds.

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  7. Peter

    I took out life insurance with what colonial mutual in 1981. I subsequently paid my dues untill an employer scheme in 1994 took over the payments. It was understaoodnthatbshould I leave that employer I had 30’daysnto uptake my insurance as it was . I did this in 1997. To my horror the employer paid premiums for a lesser cover and I had a pig of a time reinstating my wage insurance.
    The nurse was sent out and this objectionable form was required to be filled in despite my having been in a 10 yr relationship.
    The upshot is that my insurance broker raised this issue at a national conference witht the head of the underwriting division. The then divisional manager of commsure claimed the form was not legitimate and he did not know it was being distributed. I had written a five page letter detailing the errors and discrimination experienced by the company.
    I was assured in 1998 that these forms would be reviewed and removed from commsures due processes and procedures.
    I find it fascinating to read that some 14 yrs latter they still have not removed these forms. Pack of wankers

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