PUBLICATIONS

Supreme Court Holds States Cannot Ban Same-Sex Marriage; All States Must Perform and Recognize Same-Sex Marriage

Date   Jun 26, 2015
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that marriage is a fundamental right, and states must perform and recognize same-sex marriage.

Executive Summary: The U.S. Supreme Court has held that marriage is a fundamental right, and states must perform and recognize same-sex marriage. See Obergefell v. Hodges (June 26, 2015).  

What this Means for Employers

Uniform state and federal treatment of same-sex spouses

  • Fully-Insured Health and Welfare Plans: Under today's decision, fully-insured plans must extend coverage to same-sex spouses.
  • Self-Insured Health and Welfare Plans: Self-insured plans may continue to use a plan-specific definition of spouse but may be subject to federal and state anti-discrimination claims.
    • Employees have begun successfully litigating the exclusion of same-sex spouses from self-insured plans under federal and state anti-discrimination laws.
    • Recent case law has found that ERISA's preemption provisions may no longer provide protection for the design flexibility once afforded to employers providing self-insured plans. As a result, implementing a definition of "spouse" that is at odds with the state and federal definition may considerably increase a plan's potential exposure to lawsuits under state and federal anti-discrimination statutes, such as Title VII and the Equal Pay Act (EPA).

Background

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on:

1)    The "marriage" question: Does the Constitution require states to allow same-sex marriages?

Yes. The Court held that there is a constitutional right to marry.

2)    The "recognition" question: Does the Constitution require states to recognize same-sex marriages that legally took place somewhere else?

Yes. The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits states from denying the marital status of same-sex couples lawfully married in the state of celebration.

The Court's decision overrules a 6th Circuit decision that upheld state same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee and resolves the inconsistent treatment of same-sex marriage nationwide. In addition to the issues discussed above, today's decision could have a far-reaching impact on state laws. Please stay tuned for a more comprehensive discussion of how this decision may impact employers.

If you have any questions regarding the Court's decision or other employee benefits issues, please feel free to contact the author of this Alert, Katelyn Winslow, kwinslow@fordharrison.com, or any member of FordHarrison's Employee Benefits practice group. You may also contact the FordHarrison attorney with whom you usually work.