The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) issued a release on September 18, 2013, providing guidance to employee benefit plans, plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries, and plan participants and beneficiaries on the meaning of “spouse” and “marriage” as these terms appear in the provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code.

The release defines “spouse” to include “any individuals who are lawfully married under any state law, including individuals married to a person of the same sex who were legally married in a state that recognizes such marriages, but who are domiciled in a state that does not recognize such marriages.”  It further defines “marriage” to include any “same-sex marriage that is legally recognized as a marriage under any state law.”   The release cautioned, however, that the terms “spouse” and “marriage” do not include individuals in “a formal relationship recognized by a state that is not denominated a marriage under state law,” such as a domestic partnership or a civil union.

The EBSA’s general release was issued in light of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013).  The EBSA plans to issue future guidance addressing specific provisions of ERISA and its regulations.