Presently, the federal government uses different rules for different purposes when determining whether a same sex marriage will be recognized. The IRS and the majority of other government agencies use the state of celebration rule for purposes of determining whether a same sex marriages will be recognized. Under this rule, a same sex marriage is recognized so long as it was recognized in the state in which is was performed. However, the DOL uses the state of residence rule for Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) purposes. Under this rule, a same sex marriage is recognized only if it is recognized in the state in which the couple resides. The resulting inconsistency is confusing and complicates administration of employee benefits.
Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez announced on Friday that the Department of Labor (DOL) is proposing a rule to revise the definition of spouse under the FMLA to include all eligible employees in same-sex and common-law marriages. “Under the proposed revisions, the FMLA will be applied to all families equally, enabling individuals in same-sex marriages to fully exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities to their families,” states Perez. The proposal is in keeping with the Supreme Court’s June 26, 2013 ruling to strike down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in the Windsor decision.
The main highlights of the DOL’s proposal are as follows:
- Moving from the current state of residence rule to place of celebration rule; and
- Revising the definition of spouse to include same-sex marriages, common law marriages, and same-sex marriages entered into abroad that could have been entered into in at least one State.
The proposal has not yet been published in the Federal Register and will be subject a 45-day public comment period. However, employers should be mindful of this pending change.
The entire proposed definition reads as follows:
Spouse, as defined in the statute, means a husband or wife. For purposes of this definition, husband or wife refers to the other person with whom an individual entered into marriage as defined or recognized under State law for purposes of marriage in the State in which the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside of any State, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and could have been entered into in at least one State. This definition includes an individual in a same-sex or common law marriage that either (1) was entered into in a State that recognizes such marriages or, (2) if entered into outside of any State, is valid in the place where entered into and could have been entered into in at least one State.