On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court announced a landmark decision in the case of United States c. Windsor. The ruling struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law passed in 1996 that previously prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages as legal in order to provide the same federal benefits that opposite-sex couples receive. The Court held that section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional and therefore LGBT married couples now stand to receive a wide range of new federal benefits, including several benefits related to employment.

The decision was handed down on the same day the Court dismissed the case before it regarding California’s Proposition 8. Previously, California courts had struck down Proposition 8, and the Supreme Court decided the lawyers bringing the appeal lacked standing to challenge the lower court rulings. The dismissal, in effect, validated the ruling the Prop 8 was not constitutional, which means that California legally recognizes same-sex marriages. With both the federal government and the state of California now recognizing the validity of same-sex marriages, married LGBT citizens in this state should now enjoy the full range of available benefits on both the federal and state levels.

If you own a company that is not already inclusive of same-sex married couples in regard to federal benefits, you should soon adjust your policies and benefit packages offered to LGBT employees, spouses, and families. Some important federal benefits to which many LGBT married employees will soon be entitled include:

  • Social Security survivor’s benefits upon the death of a same-sex spouse, as well as other forms of survivor’s assistance.
  • Right to receive pension and retirement benefits after the death of a same-sex spouse, and the right to pre-retirement survivor annuity if the spouse dies before retirement.
  • Tax-free health insurance benefits for gay and lesbian spouse.
  • Emergency leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

There are about 1,100 federal laws that involve marriage and so realizing the full effect of the DOMA ruling on each of these individual laws could take a while. President Obama almost immediately requested that Attorney General Eric Holder begin examining each of these laws in light of the decision as soon as possible. The immediate request seems promising, however it could still be months before all benefits of the ruling are determined. However, in the meantime, your company can change its policies to ensure that employees in same-sex marriages are offered equal benefits as employees in opposite-sex marriages.

- Claire Kalia


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