The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on same-sex marriage has private employers around the country scrambling to make sure their employee- benefit plans comply with the law.
The impact of the decision striking down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act is clear in the 13 states and the District of Columbia where gay marriage is currently legal or soon will be: Same-sex married couples must be treated the same as other spouses under federal laws governing tax, health care, pensions and other federal benefits.
But employee-benefit experts say the effect of the ruling remains murky in the other 37 states. The court left intact another provision of the federal anti- gay-marriage law that allows one state not to recognize a same-sex marriage performed elsewhere.
“What’s the federal government going to do when you have a valid marriage in New York and the couple moves to Texas? We don’t know the answer to that,” said Scott Macey, president of the ERISA Industry Committee that represents large employers.
The confusion is creating uncertainty for many companies that operate nationwide and want to administer benefit plans in a uniform manner.
For workers living in states that have legalized same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court’s decision means gay spouses are entitled to a host of benefits they were denied previously. The decision extends pension and Social Security survivor benefits to same-sex spouses, grants equal access to the Family and Medical Leave Act and gives employees married to same-sex spouses the guarantee of uninterrupted health-care coverage under the federal COBRA health- benefits program.