The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today, June 26, 2015, in the case of Obergefell v Hodges, that States can no longer prohibit and all must recognize marriage between two people of the same sex. States must also recognize same-sex marriages for couples who were married out-of-State and same-sex spouses must now be recognized as such for State law purposes. Important implications for individuals and employers include:
- Sponsors of health and welfare benefit plans (including medical, dental, vision and life insurance) that have previously relied on State definitions of marriage will now have to review their plans carefully to determine if changes are needed or desired. Though ERISA does not require these plans to cover same-sex couples, if an employer chooses not to cover same-sex spouses, that employer may risk discrimination claims. (LGBT rights in the workplace are already an enforcement priority of the EEOC.)
- Today’s ruling has a limited impact on retirement plans because applicable federal law was changed in 2014 to require recognition of spouse regardless of the spouse’s gender. However, to the extent there was any question about the scope and reach of those previous changes for plans not subject to ERISA, it is now clear that those plans must also recognize same-sex spouses.
- It is not clear at this time the extent to which same-sex spouses may be able to assert retroactive claims for benefits.
- The Family and Medical Leave Act is not affected by today’s ruling because of prior federal law changes that require recognition of same-sex marriages.
- Closely held employers may still be able to assert religious objections to federal-law requirements under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA. This is a complex issue that will require consultation with counsel.
- Same-sex couples may be married in any U.S. State, territory and the District of Columbia.
- Because same-sex marriages have been recognized at the federal level since US v Windsor in June 2013, married same-sex couples have been required to file “married-joint” or “married-separate” federal tax returns. However, same-sex couples will now be able to file Michigan and local income tax returns as “married-joint” or “married-separate,” which may have an impact on their income taxes.
- Because Michigan does not have a separate estate tax, today’s ruling does not change the impact of estate taxation in Michigan.
- Trust and estate planning – This ruling ensures that same-sex spouses may:
- Serve as personal representative of their spouse’s estate upon death;
- Make funeral and burial arrangements for their spouse;
- Serve as their spouse’s patient advocate to make medical decisions;
- Visit their spouse in the hospital;
- Be appointed as guardian or conservator if the spouse becomes incapacitated;
- Own real estate jointly as tenants by the entirety, obtaining super creditor protection; and
- Avoid uncapping of property taxes on real property transferring to spouse at death or during life.
- Children born during a marriage will have two legally-recognized parents, regardless of gender or biological connection.
- Same-sex married couples will be able to co-adopt children.
- Step-parent adoption statutes will be available to same-sex married couples.
- Family law courts will be available to same-sex married couples for dissolution (divorce), custody, child support, spousal support, property division and literally all issues available to heterosexual couples through the courts.
- Other areas of family law that will see changes include:
- Pre- and post-nuptial agreements
- Spousal support/alimony
If you have any questions about implications for you as an employer or as an individual, please contact any of our attorneys.