On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court issued the Windsor decision, striking down a provision in the federal Defense of Marriage Act which had precluded recognition of same-sex marriages. In September, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) announced that same-sex couples legally married in a state that recognized such marriages would now be treated as married for purposes of federal taxation, regardless of whether their marriages were recognized by their state of residence. The IRS announcement was made retroactive, meaning that such marriages will be recognized back to their inception.
The IRS has issued Notice 2014-1, which provides guidance on the application of the new rules to cafeteria plans. However, in many instances employers will need to move quickly to take advantage of relief granted.
The below article has now been rendered obsolete by Bostic v. Schaefer (4th Cir. 2014), cert. denied (2014), which struck down the ban on same-sex marriage in Virginia and by the Supreme Court’s later decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down all bans on same-sex marriage.
As discussed in the chart, “State Taxes and Married Same-Sex Couples,” most states that do not recognize same-sex marriage are requiring same-sex married couples to file their tax returns as single (or head of household, if they qualify for that status). However, Virginia has now gone further, denying certain Virginia businesses state income tax deductions for fringe benefits they provide to same-sex spouses. As discussed below, the language used is muddy, and the holding is probably considerably less broad than it appears. However, businesses in Virginia need to be aware of its potential effect on them. And to the extent that other states take the same route, businesses in states other than Virginia would also be affected.
Carol V. Calhoun‘s article, “Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Decisions Create New Rules for Employee Benefit Plans,” has now been published in Baltimore OUTloud. The article discusses the effect of the Supreme Court’s decisions regarding the Defense of Marriage Act and the subsequent guidance by the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor on employee benefit plans.
The IRS has now issued Notice 2013-61, which provides procedures for requesting refunds on employment taxes paid with respect to spousal benefits for same-sex spouses. Some highlights:
The Department of Labor has now issued Technical Release No. 2013-04 (September 18, 2013), in which it announces that for purposes of Title 1 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), the term “spouse” will be read to refer to any individuals who are lawfully married under any state law, including individuals married to a person of the same sex who were legally married in a state that recognizes such marriages, but who are domiciled in a state that does not recognize such marriages. Similarly, the term “marriage” will be read to include a same-sex marriage that is legally recognized as a marriage under any state law. (The latter provision is apparently necessary to deal with marriages that are performed abroad.) Civil unions and domestic partnerships will not, however, be treated as marriages. This corresponds with the position earlier taken by the IRS.
The announcement applies only for purposes of ERISA, however. Face Sheet 28F indicates that the Department of Labor will treat a party to same-sex marriage as a spouse for purposes of the Family & Medical Leave Act only if the state where the employee resides recognizes the marriage.
Since the publication of this article, Treasury and the IRS have announced that any legal same-sex marriage will be recognized for federal tax purposes, regardless of whether the couple’s home state recognizes the marriage. See this post. The Department of Labor has also issued final regulations under the Family & Medical Leave Act which recognize a marriage, regardless of the couple’s domicile, if a) it occurred within the United States, and it was valid in the state in which it took place, and b) it occurred outside of the United States, if it was valid in the jurisdiction in which it took place and it could have been entered into in at least one state.
Federal law requires that employer plans determine marital status in a variety of contexts, ranging from requirements that ERISA-covered retirement plans provide spousal death benefits (e.g., a qualified joint and survivor annuity, qualified preretirement survivor annuity, or payment of the participant’s account balance to the spouse) to COBRA (health care continuation) rights in the event of a divorce or separation. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, it is clear that a same-sex married couple must be treated the same as an opposite-sex married couple for these purposes. But when will a same-sex couple be treated as married? Weeks after the Windsor decision, the few federal agencies that have issued guidance have taken wildly disparate approaches.
As described in a previous article, the Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Windsor case (which overturned the federal prohibition on recognition of same-sex marriages) has created a muddled situation in instances in which one or more relevant jurisdictions recognize same-sex marriage, but other(s) do not. The District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has now issued a decision that extends marriage rights in one such situation.
Michigan Public Act 297 (“Act”) prohibits public employers from providing medical and other fringe benefits to any person cohabitating with a public employee unless that person is legally married to the employee, or is a legal dependent, or eligible to inherit under the State’s intestacy laws. In a June 28 decision, U.S. District Judge David Lawson (E.D. Mich.) has issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the Act based on a finding that the plaintiffs (same-sex couples of which one works for a Michigan local government) “have stated a viable claim based on the Equal Protection Clause on which they are likely to succeed.”
Carol V. Calhoun‘s article, “Maryland to End Benefits for Employees’ Domestic Partners,” has now been published in Baltimore OUTloud. The article discusses the trend toward eliminating domestic partner benefits as more states enact same-sex marriage, and the pros and cons of doing so.