This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons protected by the Fifth Amendment. Specifically, the Court held that Section 3 of DOMA which defines “marriage” and “spouse” as excluding same-sex partners has the effect of identifying a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and makes them unequal. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, states that “DOMA forces same-sex couples to live as married for purposes of state law but unmarried for the purpose of federal law”. The Court’s ruling will have a significant impact on employers and employee benefit plans, as Section 3 of DOMA impacts over 1,000 federal laws, including federal laws relating to retirement and welfare benefit plans.
As a result of this ruling, employers will likely need to revisit their employee benefit plan terms and practices regarding marriage and spousal benefits.
Please stay tuned – we will keep you updated as we receive additional guidance from the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Labor as they interpret how this ruling will impact employers and employee benefit plans. For more information, please contact your SGR Executive Compensation and Employee Benefits Counsel.