This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws the prohibit gay marriage in Obergfell v. Hodges, No. 14-556 (June 26, 2015), First, the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex. Second, the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to recognize a same sex marriage licensed and performed in another State that does recognize that right.
The Court noted the many areas of life in the U.S. affected by marital status, such as taxation, hospital access, medical decision making authority, adoption rights and much more. But this is a labor and employment blog, so we focus on the effect on employers. First, as the Court recognized, the case will affect workers’ compensation laws in states that provide spousal benefits to spouses of workers’ compensation claimants, but do not recognize gay marriage. Second, the case may significantly affect employers in states that have mini-FMLA statutes with respect to leave to act as a caregiver for a spouse, but that do not recognize same sex marriage. Third, the case may affect employee health and life benefits with respect to spousal coverage depending on applicable state laws and the nature and language of each particular plan. Fourth, the case may affect spousal pension benefits to the extent that pension plans excluded same sex marriage from the definition of spouse. Employers should promptly revisit these affected areas and revise applicable policies, practices, and benefits accordingly.