On the eve of the March 27, 2015 effective date for the DOL’s final rule amending the definition of “spouse” under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), a Texas district court preliminarily enjoined the rule’s application to the states of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Nebraska. The case is Texas v. U.S., No. 7:15-cv-0056 (N.D. Texas 2015) and the full opinion may be found here.
Under the final rule, employers must look to the state where the marriage was entered into (instead of the state in which the employee resides) to determine the employee’s spouse. The revised definition of spouse includes same-sex marriages, common law marriages, and same-sex marriages entered into abroad that could have been entered into legally in at least one state. The rule was enacted in response to the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision, which held that the definition of marriage (between one man and one woman as husband and wife) in Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. However, Section 2 of DOMA, the Full Faith and Credit Statute, which allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, was unaffected by the ruling.
In their pleading, the states argued that the final rule should be enjoined because it contradicted the Full Faith and Credit Statute, the statutory definition of marriage in the FMLA, and their individual state laws – which do not recognize same-sex marriages. The district court found that in issuing the final rule, the DOL had exceeded its jurisdiction and had improperly preempted state law. The DOL filed a motion to reconsider the injunction, but the district court denied the request on April 10, 2015.
The final rule is in effect for all other states. However, the Supreme Court will hear arguments later this month regarding the issue of whether states which do not recognize same-sex marriages should be forced to recognize unions performed in other jurisdictions. The outcome of that case may affect the Texas ruling and/or the FMLA obligations of employers in other states. Stay tuned…