As further clarification to the Supreme Court ruling of June 26, 2013 that struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), on September 18, 2013 the Department of Labor (DOL) released guidance to Employee Benefits Plans on the definition of “spouse” and “marriage”, for plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries, and plan participants and beneficiaries.
The guidance states that 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 (or foreign country) that recognizes such marriages, but who live 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.
Federal law will continue not to recognize other state-solemnized relationships, such as civil unions and domestic partnerships.
The DOL’s guidance is consistent with the IRS guidance and extends the treatment to rules and regulations under the DOL’s purview, such as Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), COBRA continuation coverage assistance, Family and Medical Leave (FMLA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Employers and health plans should accordingly treat same-sex marriages in like manner as opposite sex marriages.