The Department of Labor issued a technical release today addressing the effect of the Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor on employee benefit plans.  The Windsor decision struck down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, thereby requiring the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages that are recognized under state law.  The IRS previously issued guidance stating that, for federal tax purposes, a marriage includes any same-sex marriage validly entered into in a state or foreign jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage, even if the individuals reside in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage.  This is commonly known as the “place of celebration” rule.

The Labor Department’s technical release applies the same “place of celebration” rule for the provisions in ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code covering employee benefit plans for which the Labor Department has authority.  These provisions include the prohibited transaction rules, which take into account family relationships when identifying parties in interest.  The Labor Department stated that its guidance also applies to certain rules governing qualified domestic relations orders (QDROs).

Like the IRS, the Labor Department stated that domestic partnerships and civil unions that are not denominated as marriages under state law would not be treated as marriages.

While the IRS guidance became effective September 16, 2013, the Labor Department’s guidance does not include an effective date.  The technical release, dated today, merely states that the term spouse “will be read” to refer to any lawful marriage under state or foreign law.  The Department expects to provide future guidance addressing specific provisions of ERISA.