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.


Continue Reading Marriage Equality Decision Is Big News (But May Have Little Impact on Private Sector Employee Benefit Plans)

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

The IRS issued guidance today defining same-sex marriage for purposes of federal tax rules.  Following the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor last June invalidating section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), federal law no longer limits the definition of marriage to opposite sex spouses.  However, the Windsor decision did not

More than a month after the Supreme Court struck down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) in United States v. Windsor, employers are still waiting for the federal government to answer fundamental questions about the rights of same-sex spouses in the post-DOMA world.  In the meantime, however, lower federal courts have begun to come to grips with these questions in decisions interpreting and applying the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision.

A significant issue for employers is whether they should determine a couple’s marital status based on the law of the state where the marriage was celebrated, even if the couple now resides in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage.  A number of states have “mini-DOMA” statutes declaring that the state will not recognize same-sex marriages, including marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

Although the Supreme Court held in Windsor that the federal government cannot refuse to recognize a same-sex marriage that is recognized under state law, the Supreme Court did not address section 2 of DOMA, which provides that a state is not required to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in a different state.  As a result, Windsor leaves open the possibility that a same-sex couple’s marriage might be valid in some states and not in others.  A rule that requires plan sponsors to look to a couple’s state of residence rather than to the state of celebration to determine the validity of their marriage would create significant administrative burdens.
Continue Reading Federal Courts Decide Rights of Same-Sex Spouses After DOMA