President Barack Obama announced recently that he is directing the Department of Labor to propose a rule making legally married, same-sex couples eligible for benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act in all fifty states regardless of whether they live in a state that recognizes their marital status.
The Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical purposes. Without the regulatory changes, gay couples cannot receive federal benefits in states that do not recognize their marriages. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in nineteen states and the District of Columbia.
Obama’s announcement comes as a precursor to the Justice Department’s announcement of findings from their yearlong review of how the landmark 2013 Supreme Court Windsor decision (that held that the survivor of a same-sex couple could claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses) affects federal rights and obligations linked to marriage and spousal rights and benefits. It is expected that, in almost all instances, same-sex married couples will receive the same federal benefits and obligations as their heterosexual counterparts, regardless of where they live. The two exceptions are Social Security and veterans benefits, which are determined by the law where the couples live. Obama, and gay and civil rights groups, are pressing lawmakers to extend these federal benefits to same-sex couples too.