We are still digesting the opinions (and Monday’s other employment related opinions), but here are the highlights of the two opinions regarding the legality of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”).
Hollingsworth v Perry: This was the case filed in California where opponents of Prop 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage as it would constitutionally define marriage as between a man and a woman, sued to block the law. The lower court struck down Prop 8 as unconstitutional and a group opposed to same-sex marriage petitioned for review. The Holding: A long punt into the endzone, no chance of a run-back. The Supreme Court simply declined to hear the challenge on standing grounds. Interestingly, this may impact groups such as these attempts to block other states from passing same-sex marriage laws depending on the circumstances.
THE BIG CASE FOR EMPLOYERS:
US v Windsor: This was the case of a lesbian couple, Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, who had lawfully wed in Canada. When Ms. Spyer passed away in 2009, Ms. Windsor was forced to pay over $300,000 in estate taxes since DOMA prohibited her from claiming her same-sex spouse was a “spouse” as defined by the IRS code. The Holding: A sweeping decision that DOMA’s provisions violate the Equal Protections afforded by the Fifth Amendment. The decision goes on to state that it is up to states to define marriage and once a state has defined marriage as including same-sex couples, the federal government cannot create a second class where those same sex couples are not considered married under federal law.
The quick takeaway: Employers in states with same-sex marriage may have to review ERISA defined health insurance plans to update definitions of covered spouses. It also may mean that the definition of spouse may change under FMLA, allowing more employees to be eligible to care for their spouses.