Two decisions issued by the United States Supreme Court on June 26, 2013 expand same-sex marriage rights and carry significant implications for employee benefit plans and employers sponsoring the plans. In United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307 (June 26, 2013), the Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (“DOMA”), which denied federal recognition of legally-married same-sex couples, was unconstitutional. Issued on the same day, Hollingsworth, et al. v. Perry, No. 12-144 (June 26, 2013), held that proponents of California’s “Proposition 8”, which amended the state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, lacked standing to appeal a lower court ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
Windsor and Hollingsworth will significantly impact employee benefit plans, their administration and the taxation of employee benefits. Plan sponsors, with counsel's assistance, must examine their benefit plan documents, administrative forms (including beneficiary designation forms, benefit election forms, etc.) and systems to ensure that benefits are structured and administered in a manner that is consistent with applicable law. The decisions also raise a host of new questions and issues that will need to be resolved through legislative and regulatory guidance. For additional information about the Supreme Court’s decisions in Windsor and Hollingsworth and their impact on employers, please refer to this Jackson Lewis article: http://www.jacksonlewis.com/resources.php?NewsID=4532.