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The Wagner Law Group

The Wagner Law Group, A Professional Corporation, is a nationally recognized ERISA & employee benefits, estate planning, employment, labor & human resources practice. 

 

Established in 1996, The Wagner Law Group has 22 attorneys engaged exclusively in employee benefits, estate planning and employment law. Six of our attorneys are AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell as having very high to preeminent legal abilities and ethical standards. The firm is among the largest ERISA boutiques in the country. Our practice is national in scope, with clients in more than 40 states and several foreign countries.

  

 

 

 

Contact Info

The Wagner Law Group

 

  Integrity | Excellence

  

Boston 

Tel: (617) 357-5200 

Fax: (617) 357-5250 

99 Summer Street 

13th Floor

Boston, MA 02110


Palm Beach Gardens 

Tel: (561) 293-3590
Fax: (561) 293-3591
7108 Fairway Drive
Suite 125
Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418

   

Tampa

Tel: (813) 603-2959

Fax: (813) 603-2961

101 East Kennedy Boulevard

Suite 2140
Tampa, FL  33602 

 

San Francisco

Tel: (415) 625-0002

Fax: (415) 358-8300

315 Montgomery Street

Suite 904

San Francisco, CA 94104

 

St. Louis

Tel: (314) 236-0065

Fax: (314) 236-5743
100 South 4th Street, Suite 550
St. Louis, MO  63102 

 

www.wagnerlawgroup.com

 

 

 

 

July 10, 2015

 

 Health and Welfare Law Alert

 

 

 

Impact of the Latest Supreme Court Decision on Same-Sex Marriage

 

 

 

The Supreme Court has determined, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires each state to allow same-sex couples to marry. Accordingly, all states must not only permit same-sex marriages but must also recognize same-sex marriages validly entered into in other jurisdictions. The impact of the Obergefell decision on employee welfare benefit plans will depend on several factors, including whether the employer currently offers benefits to same-sex spouses, the types of benefits it offers, and the states in which it operates.

 

Background. The Court's previous decision in U.S. v. Windsor eliminated the prohibition in the federal Defense of Marriage Act that had barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. Before Obergefell, however, the Court had not made clear whether all states must either permit same-sex marriages within the respective states or recognize those performed in other states. Both questions have now been firmly decided in the affirmative .

 

Impact of Obergefell on Employer-Sponsored Welfare Benefit Plans. The following is a summary of the likely implications of Obergefell on employers' welfare benefit plans.

 

Taxation of Benefits. The Obergefell decision establishes full equality between same-sex and opposite-sex spouses under both federal and state law. Thus, there can no longer be a difference in state taxation of benefits provided to same-sex spouses and same-sex spouses.

 

For an employer in a state that recognized same-sex marriages before the decision, no change is required. For employees living in states that did not recognize same-sex marriages, state tax treatment of some welfare plan benefits may change.

 

Previously, the value of coverage or benefits provided to a same-sex spouse who was not recognized as a spouse by a state was generally treated as income to the employee for state tax purposes and taxed at single taxpayer rates. Now, this coverage must be treated in the same manner as opposite-sex spousal coverage and the employee will usually be taxed at married taxpayer rates. State income tax withholding will need to be adjusted to reflect the changes.

 

Discrimination Issues. Employers with fully insured plans in states that did not previously recognize same-sex marriage may now be required, because of state insurance law, to offer coverage to same-sex spouses that is equivalent to the coverage offered to opposite-sex couples. And while employers that sponsor self-funded welfare plans might not be required to provide coverage to same-sex couples, there is now a substantial risk of having to defend against federal and state discrimination lawsuits.

 

At the federal level, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission takes the position that discrimination based on sexual orientation is sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Also, federal contractors are not allowed to discriminate against gay and lesbian employees. Finally, state laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation could also prevent benefits from being denied to same-sex spouses when they are provided to opposite-sex spouses.

 

Action Steps for Employers. In the wake of Obergefell, employers in all states are advised to ensure that their welfare benefit plans comply with all applicable federal and state laws with respect to benefits for same-sex spouses. Accordingly, employers should review their plans to determine whether amendments may be required - now or before the end of the current plan year - to clarify the administration of spousal rights and benefits for same-sex spouses. Employers should also prepare for coverage requests from employees who marry their same-sex partners, especially in states that previously did not recognize same-sex marriage. 

 

 

 

 

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This Newsletter is provided for information purposes by The Wagner Law Group to clients and others who may be interested in the subject matter, and may not be relied upon as specific legal advice.  This material is not to be construed as legal advice or legal opinions on specific facts. Under the Rules of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, this material may be considered advertising.