Historic 5-4 ruling legalizes the unions in all 50 states.
The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the U.S. Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry. The case, Obergefell v. Hodges, which is a composite of lower-court cases involving four states—Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky— will have ramifications for employers, plan sponsors and workers in all states.
Faced with answering two questions, whether states are required to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and whether states have to recognize same-sex marriage licenses from other states under the 14th Amendment, the Court ultimately decided that the Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law mean that states cannot ban same-sex marriages.
Today’s ruling is the culmination of a long legal fight. The fierce national debate over same-sex marriage, which spans more than a decade, began when gay and lesbian couples started to challenge state-approved bans on marriage in courts across the country.*
With the decision, released on the two year anniversary of U.S. v. Windsor,** all legally married couples (both opposite and same-sex) will be afforded the same spousal rights. Employers and plan sponsors located in states where same-sex marriage has not been recognized or allowed will need to change employment, HR and benefits policies to comply. The upshot? Less confusion, complexity and inconsistency for employers, plan sponsors and workers. Because all legally married spouses will be treated the same, regardless of sex and state of residence, employee benefits can be provided and administered more consistently.
Although somewhat controversial, know that this opinion will definitely have an effect on TASC’s FlexSystem participation going forward as the ability to use a spouse’s FSA must now be extended to all same-sex couples regardless of “state of celebration” or “state of residence.” This will also allow sole proprietor same-sex couples to have an employee benefit Plan, such as AgriPlanNow/BizPlanNow, which was previously prohibited. Stay tuned to the Capital Connection; we will provide clear direction related to the exact effects in future posts.
* Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage in 2004.
** U.S. v. Windsor struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.