On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot refuse to license same-sex marriages or refuse to recognize those performed in other states. The case, Obergefell v. Hodges, a composite of four lower-court cases involving four states—Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky— has ramifications for employers and trust funds.
Many states already permitted same-sex marriages. However, the Supreme Court’s decision means those states with bans must eliminate them and start issuing licenses. Also, states can no longer refuse to recognize a same-sex marriage legally performed in a different state. With this ruling, all legally married couples, both opposite- and same-sex, will be afforded the same spousal rights.
Employers in states where same-sex marriage has not been recognized or allowed will need to review their employment and benefits policies to ensure they do not exclude same-sex married couples. Likewise, benefit fund trustees will also need to review plan documents as well as fund procedures to ensure that they do not make a distinction between same-sex and opposite-sex spouses.
In many cases, policies and plan documents likely refer simply to “spouse” or “legal spouse” in which case the policies or plan documents will not need to be changed. However, the way it is applied may change because now all legally married spouses must be treated the same, regardless of sex and state of residence. This should lead to employee policies and benefits being provided and administered more consistently.