What does the DOMA ruling mean for you?

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court held that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional as a deprivation of equal protection and due process under the Fifth Amendment. Specifically, in the case of United States v. Windsor, the Court found that it was unconstitutional for DOMA to deny, for federal law purposes, state-recognized valid same-sex marriages.

Accordingly, state-recognized same-sex marriages will have to be treated as bona fide marriages and therefore confer a number of employment related benefits on spouses.

Here are some of the changes that are likely to occur:

• Same-sex spouses will now be eligible for FMLA benefits to take care of each other in times of serious illness.

• Same-sex spouses will be treated as qualified beneficiaries entitled to continuation coverage rights under COBRA.

• Employees will now be able to use their Health Flexible Spending Accounts or Health Reimbursement Arrangements for medical expenses incurred by a same-sex spouse.

• Retirement plan beneficiaries will default to federally recognized spouses. Any other beneficiary designation will not be valid unless spousal consent is obtained.

• Coverage under a group health plans will be extended to same-sex spouses pursuant to HIPAA’s special enrollment requirements.

Of course, if your employer does not presently offer benefits for spouses, they will not be required to do so. These changes would only apply for those employers who offer benefits for spouses. If you have questions about your benefits, an attorney can help you review your benefits and can help you determine what you should be eligible for.