With a resounding boom, on June 26th, 2015, the US Supreme Court put an end to the legal battle over Same-Sex Marriage in America. With the final ruling in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, each and every state is now required to allow and acknowledge same-sex marriages. The court’s view, in a 5-4 decision, was that marriage is a “fundamental right,” and the Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses protect individuals from being deprived of that right. With that, the rainbows swept across the country on every social media site and we even saw the White House draped in color.
This decision will have an impact not just on the life, liberties and pursuit of happiness for thousands of Americans but also all employers. Business owners and HR would be wise to stay tuned to how it will impact company policy and benefits. Simply put, same-sex married couples must be treated exactly the same as opposite-sex married couples. This is regardless of any personal opinion and is not optional. That’s good in a way because it takes the guess work out of the decision making process; personal opinions don’t matter and it is not optional. Not complying with this Federal law will open employers up to the risk of violating anti-discrimination laws. With this being such a hot topic, I would bet we will see some cases with this issue hit the court dockets in the upcoming months.
In my blog titled “New FMLA Protections for Same-Sex Spouses” posted on March 24th, 2015, I shared the news that the Supreme Court in its United States v. Windsor case ruling found section 3 of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) unconstitutional in its limited definition of marriage for federal purposes as an institution between members of the opposite sex and prompted the Department of Labor to redefine the term “Spouse” in the qualifications and applicability of the FMLA. The Windsor ruling forced states that did not recognize same-sex marriage in their state to at least recognize the marriage if it had occurred in a state that did. That ruling was certainly a precursor to this latest decision. Now all marriages, same sex or opposite sex must be recognized as marriages – not as domestic partners or civil unions – but as marriages.
This actually raises an interesting, and likely unintended issue for employers. Until this decision, domestic partner benefits were a way to extend the same benefits reserved for employees’ spouses to those partners of employees who couldn’t get married. It was a generous benefit that employers were not necessarily required to extend. With same-sex couples now being able to get married the same as opposite-sex couples, domestic partner benefits may now extend to same-sex couples. After all, the spirit of the law is to treat everyone equally. It’s a new day in America no matter where you stand on the spectrum. What are your thoughts?