On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States reached a landmark decision in United States v. Windsor that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA prohibited the federal government from legally recognizing same-sex marriages and from providing federal benefits to same-sex married couples. The decision held that section 3 of the Act was unconstitutional, thereby entitling same-sex married couples in the United States to the same federal benefits of opposite-sex married couples. The Court, however, declined to extend the mandatory recognition of same-sex marriages to all 50 states. At this time, only 12 states (soon to be 13 once the Proposition 8 ruling takes effect in California) plus the District of Columbia recognize the validity of same-sex marriages. Oregon is one of the 38 states that does not recognize these unions.
How does this ruling affect LGBT employees?
If you are a married LGBT employee, the DOMA decision may positively affect your federal employment benefits. If your company is not already inclusive of LGBT married couples, it should soon change its policies and benefit packages offered to LGBT employees, spouses, and families. A few key benefits to which many married LGBT employees in the United States will soon be entitled are:
-Emergency leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
-Tax-free health insurance benefits for gay and lesbian spouses.
-Social Security survivor’s benefits upon the death of a same-sex spouse and other forms of survivor’s assistance.
-Right to receive pension and retirement benefits after the death of a same-sex spouse, and the right to pre-retirement survivor annuity if the spouse dies before retirement.
For Oregon LGBT employees, the full-range of expected benefits is not yet clear. Though Oregon already affords certain rights to registered domestic partners, the state will not recognize the validity of same-sex marriages, even if the marriage took place legally in another state. Therefore, companies in the state may only be required to afford some of the federal marriage benefits to LGBT couples residing here.
There are approximately 1,100 federal laws that involve marriage–some laws focus on where the couple was married, some focus on where the couple currently resides, and some do not mention either. It seems promising that President Barack Obama has already asked Attorney General Eric Holder to immediately begin determining how the Supreme Court ruling applies to federal laws regarding marriage and which laws should be enforced in all states. However, it may be months before all of the determinations are made and before married LGBT employees in Oregon can appreciate the full effect of the DOMA ruling.
If you believe your employer is violating the law by discriminating against you or not providing equal benefits, or if you simply have any question or concerns about changes in the laws, do not hesitate to call HKM Employment Attorneys today at (503) 389-1130.