Recently the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. This is a great step forward on the civil rights front and sparked some fun conversations in our office, but it left me with a big question: Is this news blog worthy?
First we need to take a look at the case that brought DOMA before the Supreme Court. Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, a same sex couple, were married in Canada and lived in New York. When Thea Spyer passed away, she left her estate to Windsor. Since the Federal government didn’t recognize their marriage (but the state did), she had to pay federal taxes on the estate that a spouse would not have to. Windsor sued the Federal government and asked for a refund of the taxes she paid.
Since HR professionals typically shouldn’t be giving advice to employees on estate tax obligations, why should employers care about changes in the definition of a spouse?
Because even though HR people don’t usually deal with estate taxes, we do deal with things that cover employee spouses a lot. Including: Family Medical Leave Act, COBRA, Affordable Care Act, Bereavement leave, Insurance coverage, Retirement plans, and Wellness plans. Essentially any law or policy which involves a spouse, will potentially need to be changed.
In Michigan, we do still have a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriages, but we also have an active lawsuit (DeBoer v. Snyder) that is due to go before a Federal judge on October 1st, challenging that amendment. I think it’s a fair bet that Michigan’s ban on same sex marriages will be declared unconstitutional in October.
For those proactive folks, this might be a good time to look at your policies and how they will be affected.