Supreme Court Decisions on Same Sex Marriage To Impact Business Entities, Employers and Individuals

Today’s Supreme Court decisions will have a major impact upon business entities, employers and individuals in New York, New Jersey, and several other states including California, due to the change of the definitions of “spouse” and “marriage” under federal law that will affect over 1,000 federal statutes, including leave, benefit, and tax laws.

On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court issued two major decisions on same-sex marriage, United States v. Windsor, No 12-307, 570 U.S. ____ (2013), and Hollingsworth v. Perry, No. 12-144 (2013). These decisions will have a profound impact on both tax law and on employers in the twelve states and Washington D.C. in which same-sex marriage is already legal, including New York, as well as California where same-sex marriage will become legal. Based on Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Court’s decision will legalize same-sex marriage in California. Under United States v. Windsor, the Defense of Marriage Act’s provision, which restricted the definition of “marriage” and “spouse” to heterosexual marriages, has been struck-down as unconstitutional based on the due process and equal protection provisions of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. There is now no definition of “marriage” or “spouse” under federal law, and the likely analysis would hold that the relevant state law would apply. In short, under federal law in the twelve states including New York where same-sex marriage is legal, and California where it will become legal, same-sex married couples will receive federal benefits. Employers in the affected states including New York, should immediately examine their leave policies and various benefits plans, and consult with counsel as appropriate.

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