In a closely watched and eagerly anticipated decision, the Supreme Court, in United States v. Windsor, __ U.S. ___ (June 26, 2013) has overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which limited the definition of marriage for federal law purposes to "only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife." Writing the majority opinion for a 5-4 divided Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that the regulation and definition of marriage has historically been within the authority and jurisdiction of state government. In the matter before the court in Windsor, the State of New York had enacted legislation recognizing the legal right of same-sex couples to marry. In this context, Justice Kennedy wrote that DOMA -- which by its design and terms was intended to interfere with the dignity of state sanctioned same-sex marriages by depriving those couples of equal treatment under federal law -- violates the basic due process and equal protection principles of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. A copy of the majority’s decision as well as the three dissenting opinions can be accessed here.
Pollsters, strategists, and religious and philosophical leaders will, no doubt, weigh in on the ramifications of this week’s decisions. In the meantime, employers will need to start thinking about the real world implications of the court’s decision.
The Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service previously have sought to provide guidance to same sex couples. Most recently, the IRS updated its "Answers to Frequently Asked Questions for Same Sex Couples" effective May 30, 2013. These government agencies will now face additional pressure to provide guidance with regard to same-sex couples reflecting the demise of DOMA. We will continue to monitor that guidance as it becomes available and will provide further updates, either through additional Executive Alerts or through our on-going Benefits Broadcast series. In the meantime, plan administrators must endeavor to operate benefit plans in accordance with their terms and in a manner consistent with the holding in the court’s decision. For questions or assistance with employment or employee benefit plan issues, please contact any member of BakerHostetler’s Employee Benefits Group.
Authorship Credit: John W. Boyd
Additionally, our Private Wealth Team has analyzed the Windsor opinion for potential gift, estate and income tax planning for same-sex couples. Their blog entry summarizing and addressing the case may be found here.
 In a separate, but concurrently published decision, the Supreme Court also upheld an earlier district court decision finding California’s ban on same-sex marriage imposed as a result of the Proposition Eight voter initiative to be unconstitutional. The court’s decision in that case, Hollingsworth v. Perry (June 26, 2013) may be accessed here.
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