Supreme Court Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage Leads Federal Agencies to realign benefits

Since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized federal same-sex marriage, several agencies have ruled that all same-sex married couples have federal rights even if the states where they live do not recognize these couples as married. Here are some of the agency changes that have already gone into effect:

  • IRS:  all same-sex marriages will be recognized for all federal tax purposes, including filing, exemptions, dependents, and employee benefits. Couples also have the option to file amended returns for the past three tax years.
  • Department of Labor: In connection with employee benefit plans and beneficiaries, the terms “spouse” and “marriage” in Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 and in related department regulations should be read to include “same-sex couples legally married in any state or foreign jurisdiction that recognizes such marriages, regardless of where they currently live.” according to the Labor Department. The terms “spouse” and “marriage,” however, do not include individuals in a formal relationship recognized by a state that is not considered a marriage under state law, such as a domestic partnership or a civil union.
  • Department of Education: Students in same-sex marriages in any state will receive the rights of opposite-sex married couples in regard to federal college loan applications as well as more inclusive language about students and their parents.
  • Customs and Border Protection: This agency has expanded the definition of “members of a family residing in a household” to include “long-term same-sex couples and other domestic relationships,” which will make it easier for couples to file joint customs declarations when returning to the country.

The one agency that fails to recognize federal rights if same-sex couples live in a state not recognizing their legal relation is the Social Security Administration. Only legally married same-sex spouses who live in states recognizing marriage quality will receive retirement benefits, using “state of domicile,” not “state of ceremony,” for Social Security qualification. The Justice Department is currently reviewing this rule, searching for a way to change the policy that does not ask Congress to change the law.

More information about recent federal legal changes is available at Nel’s New Day.

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