The Supreme Court’s ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act’s definition of marriage as a legal union only between one man and one woman is unconstitutional requires employers to treat same-sex couples who are legally married the same as married opposite-sex couples under federal law. In prohibiting federal law from distinguishing between same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples, the ruling immediately extended a wealth of employee benefits to same-sex couples — perks which were already given to opposite-sex couples. This benefits extension, will require employers to update their employee benefits policies and plans to reflect the change. Exactly how much an employer will have to change their plans depends on the range of benefits already offered to same-sex couples. Among other changes, Employers should be aware of the following important employee benefits that are now available to same sex couples:

  • Joint and survivor annuities, retirement and pension plans
  • Tax-free health care plans
  • Tax-favored benefits such as flexible spending accounts
  • Leave under the Family Medical Leave Act to care for a same-sex spouse suffering from a serious health condition, for military caregiver leave, or for qualifying exigency when a same-sex spouse is called to active military duty in a foreign country
  • Continuance of health insurance benefits under COBRA