By Michael Regula
Originally published on Advocate.com September 18 2013 6:05 PM ET
The U.S. Department of Labor has announced new guidelines for businesses and gay employees, following the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, in which it ruled section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
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.
The major points in the changes concern employee benefit plans and beneficiaries, in accordance with ERISA.
On June 26, the U.S. v Windsor decision struck down the provisions of DOMA that denied federal recognition and benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
“This decision represents a historic step toward equality for all American families, and I have directed the department’s agency heads to ensure that they are implementing the decision in a way that provides maximum protection for workers and their families,” said Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez.
Also included in the announcement is the President Barack Obama's direction to the attorney general to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure the Supreme Court's decision is implemented swiftly and smoothly.
“By providing greater clarity on how the Supreme Court’s decision affects one of the laws we enforce, we are contributing to greater equality and greater protection for America’s working families,” said Phyllis C. Borzi, assistant secretary of Labor for employee benefits security . The DOL plans to issue additional guidance in the coming months.