This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that the federal Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA") is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons protected by the Fifth Amendment. Specifically, the Court held that Section 3 of DOMA which defines "marriage" and "spouse" as excluding same-sex partners has the effect of identifying a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and makes them unequal. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, states that "DOMA forces same-sex couples to live as married for purposes of state law but unmarried for the purpose of federal law". The Court's ruling will have a significant impact on employers and employee benefit plans, as Section 3 of DOMA impacts over 1,000 federal laws, including federal laws relating to retirement and welfare benefit plans.
As a result of this ruling, employers will likely need to revisit their employee benefit plan terms and practices regarding marriage and spousal benefits.