The Supreme Court’s decision last week in Obergefell v. Hodges is big news: it held that the 14th Amendment requires states to license same-sex marriages and to recognize lawful out-of-state same-sex marriages, and thus legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country. In a final section that begins with a philosopher’s take — “No union is more profound than marriage…” — and ends with a jurist’s — “It is so ordered.” — the Court captured the attention of SCOTUS junkies and the rest of the country alike, leading to an outpouring of celebrations, headlines, social commentary and musing about the future.
Obergefell clearly is of cultural importance and has personal significance for many people, but what does it mean for private sector employers and their employee benefit plans? Surprisingly little. Private sector employee benefits are governed primarily by federal law, which had its watershed moment on this issue in 2013 when the Supreme Court required the federal government to recognize same-sex marriage in United States v. Windsor.