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The Wagner Law Group Description 

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 19 attorneys engaged exclusively in employee benefits, estate planning and employment law. Five 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


Massachusetts Office 

Tel: (617) 357-5200 

Fax: (617) 357-5250 

99 Summer Street 

13th Floor

Boston, MA 02110

Florida Office 

Tel: (561) 293-3590
Fax: (561) 293-3591
7121 Fairway Drive
Suite 203
Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418


New York Office

Tel: (716) 650-5987

Fax: (716) 633-0301

333 International Drive

Suite B-4

Williamsville, NY 14221


San Francisco Office

Tel: (415) 625-0002

Fax: (415) 829-4385

315 Montgomery Street

Suite 902

San Francisco, CA 94104




June 14, 2012 

 State and Federal Law Alert







Part of Defense of Marriage Act

Ruled Unconstitutional





In Massachusetts v. United States Department of Heath and Human Services, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has upheld a district court decision declaring Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA") unconstitutional.


Section 3 of DOMA, defines "marriage" for federal law purposes as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."


Challenging Section 3 of DOMA, the state of Massachusetts argued that Congress cannot "undercut the choices made by same-sex couples and by individual states," by limiting federal benefits for same-sex couples, because this action is not a supported by a permissible federal interest. 


The First Circuit agreed.  However it restricted its decision to Section 3 of DOMA which defines marriage when applying federal laws, and did not rule on Section 2 of DOMA, which gives individual states the right to recognize, or not recognize, same-sex marriages of other states.  Further, the First Circuit delayed the application of its decision, since a review of its decision by the Supreme Court is highly likely. 


If this First Circuit decision is upheld on review, or the Supreme Court refuses the case, then same-sex couples in states that recognize such marriages could obtain marriage-based federal rights and benefits, including rights to COBRA continuation; HIPAA Special Enrollments; and cafeteria plan pre-tax contributions and status change events.  Retirement plan rights would include ERISA's spousal survivor benefits.  Also same-sex spouses would be entitled to certain Social Security benefits.  In the absence of a Supreme Court ruling, however, it is possible that this ruling would only apply to states within the First Circuit (Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island).


Interestingly, unless Section 2 of DOMA is also declared unconstitutional, the conflict between state and federal law could become problematic.  For example, if same sex married couples move to states that do not recognize same sex marriages, they might not be entitled to the same entitlements and benefits, since, under their new state's laws, they are not married and would not be "spouses" as defined by the new state.


Of course, we will keep watching this issue and provide updates as needed.






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