In a landmark 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, ruled today that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, stated that “[n]o union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.” Before this ruling, same-sex marriage was legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia. This ruling clears the way for same-sex couples to marry in the remaining 14 states.
As background, the Court was asked to hear an appeal that challenged the marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. Specifically, the Court addressed whether: 1) the 14th Amendment requires states to license a marriage between two people of the same sex, and 2) the 14th Amendment requires a state to recognize legally valid same-sex marriages performed in other states.
The Court ruled that the answer to both questions is “yes” and thus legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. This decision struck down restrictions on same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee that the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld last year. The decision is consistent with an earlier decision in U.S. v. Windsor, which required Federal recognition of same-sex marriages in states that had legalized same-sex marriage. To access the previous SGR Client Alert discussing Windsor, click here.
This decision will likely affect sponsors of retirement and health and welfare plans, and may require plan design changes. It is anticipated that the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor will issue guidance regarding the effects that this ruling has on employee benefit plans.
For a copy of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion, click here.
For more information on the effect that this decision may have on your employee benefit plans, please contact your Executive Compensation and Employee Benefits Counsel at Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP.
This client alert is intended to inform clients and other interested parties about legal matters of current interest and is not intended as legal advice.