Who is a spouse? Different federal agencies take differing approaches after Windsor
(Posted on August 13, 2013 by )

gay_marriageSince 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.

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District Court: Pennsylvania Retirement Plan Must Recognize Canadian Same-Sex Marriage of Illinois Couple
(Posted on July 30, 2013 by )

gay_marriageAs 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.

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Federal District Court Blocks Michigan Law Eliminating Health Benefits for Domestic Partners of Public Employees
(Posted on July 4, 2013 by )

US District Court, Eastern District of MichiganMichigan 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.”

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Maryland to End Benefits For Employees’ Domestic Partners
(Posted on June 10, 2013 by )

The discussion does not take into account the Supreme Court’s later decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down bans on same-sex marriage. An updated look at the pros and cons of continuing domestic partner benefits can be found at this link.

The Baltimore Sun is reporting that with same-sex marriage now available, Maryland state employees in same-sex relationships have been notified that they won’t be able to include domestic partners in their health insurance as of January 1, 2014. With 11 states, the District of Columbia, and three Native American tribes having legalized same-sex marriage, employers that have domestic-partner benefits are increasingly reexamining their policies in that area.

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Working Families Tax Relief Act Affects Domestic Partner Benefits
(Posted on October 29, 2004 by )

After publication of this article, the Supreme Court issued United States v. Windsor. That decision overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, which had previously prevented federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Thus, this article is now obsolete as to same-sex spouses, although it continues to apply to domestic partners who are not legally married.

One issue that has been completely ignored in the press surrounding the Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2004, Public Law No. 108-311 (“Act”), is the apparently unintentional effect it will have on employers that sponsor employee benefit plans covering domestic partners or same-sex spouses of employees, and on employees whose domestic partners or same-sex spouses are covered by such plans. Because the relevant provisions of the Act will become effective starting in 2005, employers that sponsor such plans will have to act quickly to deal with the changes made by the Act. Read more