Want to receive these Newsletters via E-mail?
About Links in this Newsletter
Links within news stories display full text documents including legislation, regulations,
court decisions, rulings and government reports.
The first time you click on a link you will be taken to the IntelliConnect login page, where you will need to enter your ID and password. Subsequent links will take you directly to the desired document.
If you aren’t a subscriber call 800-449-9525, or let us contact you about,
Contact us by sending an e-mail to
Featured This Week
Employee Benefits Management News
- Definition of marriage in DOMA falls under Fifth Amendment equal protection guarantees
Employee Benefits Management News
Definition of marriage in DOMA falls under Fifth Amendment equal protection guarantees
In a greatly anticipated and deeply divided opinion, the Supreme Court ruled today that lawfully married, same-sex couples are entitled to the equal protection of the laws pursuant to the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, and thus, Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) must fall (United States v Windsor, June 26, 2013, Kennedy, A). “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes [its] purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its mar¬riage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” wrote the Court. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan joined in the opinion. Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Scalia and Alito filed dissenting opinions. Justice Thomas joined in the Scalia dissent; Justice Roberts joined it in part. Justice Thomas also joined the Alito dissent in part.
Although they longed to marry, noted the Court, the two women at the heart of the case were unable to do so in the United States. In 2007, they were married in Ontario, Canada. In time, “[t]he limitation of lawful marriage to heterosexual couples, which for centuries had been deemed both necessary and fundamental, came to be seen in New York and certain other States as an unjust exclusion,” the Court observed. Presently New York, along with 11 other states and the District of Columbia, have “decided that same-sex couples should have the right to marry and so live with pride in themselves and their union and in a status of equality with all other married persons.”
Employee benefits implications. The court’s ruling affects numerous employee benefits, which are governed by several federal laws, including the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code (Code). Because of DOMA’s definition of “spouse,” federal benefits under these laws were available to an employee’s opposite-sex spouse only. Now that the Court has struck down that definition, state laws presumably will define marriage and spouse (barring future federal guidance). As such, if a state allows same-sex couples to marry, an employee’s same-sex spouse would be entitled to the same federal benefits as an employee’s opposite-sex spouse. Note, however, that Section 2 of DOMA, which allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed under the laws of other states, was not challenged in Windsor. As such, benefit plans in states that do not allow same-sex marriage or do not recognize such out-of-state marriages might continue to look to their own state law to determine entitlement to some federal benefits.