On July 9, 2014, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced that it had recently implemented policies to ensure certain statutes and regulations were consistent and in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26, 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor, in which the Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional. Section 3 of DOMA provided, in part, that “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”
On June 25, 2014, one year after the Court’s decision, Director Cordray of the CFPB issued a memo to all CFPB staff setting forth guidelines on how the Court’s decision impacted their work, handling of the various affected statutes, and the policies the CFPB put into place to comply with the Court’s decision. Going forward, with respect to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and Regulation B, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act and Regulation J, the Truth in Lending Act and Regulation Z, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act and Regulation X, the Bureau Ethics Regulations, and the Procedures for Bureau Debt Collection, whenever the terms “spouse,” “marriage,” “married,” “husband,” “wife,” and any other like terms relating to family or marital status are used, those terms will be interpreted to include same-sex marriages and married same-sex spouses. In other words, where applicable, those terms will be gender neutral and will apply to same-sex spouses. Director Cordray’s memo notes, however, that while the CFPB will recognize same-sex marriages and married same-sex spouses regardless of their residency, the marriage will be recognized as valid only if the marriage legally occurred in a jurisdiction which allows same-sex marriages. Thus, the CFPB will not consider a person married if he/she is merely in a domestic partnership, civil union, or other relationship not defined by the law as marriage.