On June 26, the Supreme Court ruled on the Obergefell case that the Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantees same-sex couples a fundamental right to marry and have their marriages legally recognized in all states.
Although the state of Virginia has recognized same-sex marriage since October 2014, this may be a good opportunity for employers to review company policies and its impact on benefits now that same-sex marriage is the law of the land in all 50 states.
This ruling affects all policies that involve employees’ spouses, including retirement benefits, health insurance, dependent care, FMLA and other family-related leave. Now, all benefits must provide the same coverage to same-sex married couples as for heterosexual married couples.
What does this decision mean for employers? Mostly, it simplifies the meaning of the word “spouse.” Now, no matter the state, a spouse is a spouse as long as the couple is legally married.
Advice to Employers:
- Search all policies and procedures for the terms “husband” and “wife.” Substitute “spouse.” Then read the text to ensure the change effectively removed all references to the spouses’ genders.
- Train managers on the changes: When it comes to benefits that involve spouses, all married employees must be treated equally.
This decision also affects the income tax and Social Security status of employees in same-sex marriages. Regardless of state law, they and their spouses now have the same rights (and responsibilities) as other married couples.
This latest Supreme Court decision is of particular significance in states that previously did not recognize same-sex marriage. For businesses with multi-state operations, beware that each state or jurisdiction may issue its own guidance on the timing of the implementation of the Obergefell decision.
Of note – This decision doesn’t change the fact that sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected characteristics under federal law.