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Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Impact

By now you’ve read or heard about the Supreme Court of the United States ruling regarding marriage.  Basically, the Court said that denying recognition to same-sex couples who are legally marriedunder state law is unconstitutional as it violates equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution.   If you live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal, hooray! There are still quite a bit of states that do not recognize these marriages and may continue to establish their own state laws relating to the subject.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are 35 states that limit marriage to opposite sex couples.  12 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage (California*, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington).

*California’s Proposition 8, prohibiting same sex marriages was struck down by the Supreme Court today.

Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota passed same-sex marriage legislation in 2013.  Rhode Island and Minnesota’s laws take effect on August 1 and Delaware’s takes effect on July 1.

So, why am I writing about this?  The decision directly affects Employee Benefits.

Employees who are married same-sex couples in states where the unions are legal will be eligible for equal benefits under federal programs, such as
  • the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)
  • the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
  • the Consolidated Omnibus Benefits Reconciliation Act (COBRA)
  • the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
  • Equal Employment Opportunity
  • Social Security
  • Immigration and tax laws

This ruling will undoubtedly trigger major changes for HR professionals.  The decision is expected to mean a major overhaul of federal rules affecting employee benefits administration and payroll operations.

In the days to come, decisions will be made by state and federal agencies on how to specifically implement the rulings.   As soon as we receive guidance, we will share with you.  In the meantime, employers should begin to review their current policies to determine whether or not they’re affected.