As same-sex marriages began taking place over the weekend in New York state (click here for more information on the benefit implications of that development), another development that could have even more far-ranging implications for benefit plans also occurred last week. Specifically, last week the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on a bill entitled the “Respect for Marriage Act” which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act’s (DOMA) definition of marriage for purposes of federal law as a union between one man and one woman. If the Respect for Marriage Act were enacted, it would — among other things — significantly complicate the administration of benefit plans on a multitude of issues such income tax inclusion, COBRA, death benefits, etc. (For more information, click here). There could also be significant confusion regarding whether a same-sex marriage entered into in one state can or must be recognized by another state; the federal DOMA inspired many states to enact their own mini-DOMA statutes, the constitutionality of which might be in question if the Respect for Marriage Act were enacted.
Legislative prospects for the Respect for Marriage Act are difficult to predict. However, consistent with the Administration’s position to stop enforcing portions of DOMA (click here for more information), the President has indicated his willingness to sign the Respect for Marriage Act if presented to him.