Gay workers can now participate with their spouses in employee health care and pension benefits even if same-sex marriage is not recognized in their state, according to new guidance from the U.S. Labor Department.
The U.S. Department of Labor today announced new guidance interpreting the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor. In a technical release, the department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration provides guidance to plans, plan sponsors, fiduciaries, participants and beneficiaries on the decision’s impact on the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.
The release states that, in general, the terms “spouse” and “marriage” in Title I of ERISA and in related department regulations should be read to include same-sex couples legally married in any state or foreign jurisdiction that recognizes such marriages, regardless of where they currently live. On June 26, 2013, the Windsor decision struck down the provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to legally married, same-sex couples.
Said Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez: “This decision represents a historic step toward equality for all American families, and I have directed the department’s agency heads to ensure that they are implementing the decision in a way that provides maximum protection for workers and their families. The department plans to issue additional guidance in the coming months as we continue to consult with the Department of Justice and other federal agencies to implement the decision.”
Added Assistant Secretary for Employee Benefits Security Phyllis C. Borzi: "By providing greater clarity on how the Supreme Court’s decision affects one of the laws we enforce, we are contributing to greater equality and greater protection for America’s working families."
The full guidance can be found HERE.
The Washington Blade adds:
However, like other post-DOMA decisions from the administration, the guidance notes that couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships won’t be eligible for this federal benefit. They need a legal marriage.
“The terms ‘spouse’ and ‘marriage,’ however, do not include individuals in a formal relationship recognized by a state that is not denominated a marriage under state law, such as a domestic partnership or a civil union, regardless of whether the individuals who are in these relationships have the same rights and responsibilities as those individuals who are married under state law,” the guidance states.
Still, Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization is happy with the guidance.
“It’s yet another positive indication of the way in which this administration is interpreting the Windsor decision,” Sainz said.