Department of Labor Offers Guidance After Supreme Court Decision

In June of this year, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a landmark case that found Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional and in violation of the liberties provided under the Fifth Amendment. In September, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued guidance concerning employee benefit plans as they are affected by the decision.

The Supreme Court decision in United States v Windsor affects interpretation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) by plan sponsors, beneficiaries and other parties. In guidance provided by the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), the following points are made:

  • The terms spouse and marriage as defined in Title I of ERISA refer to couples of the same or opposite sex that were legally married in any state or jurisdiction.
  • These terms, under ERISA, do not apply to same-sex or other couples who have undertaken civil union or domestic partnerships in a state or jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage.
  • The benefits of same-sex couples who are legally married in a state or jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage are protected regardless of whether they currently reside in a state or jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage.

Under ERISA, those definitions now flow with the legally married couple, regardless of their geographic location. Notes Assistant Secretary for Employee Benefits Security Phyllis C. Borzi, [b]y providing greater clarity on how the Supreme Court’s decision affects one of the laws we enforce, we are contributing to greater equality and greater protection for America’s working families. 

When you have questions about employee benefits, speak with an experienced ERISA attorney in New York.

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