Many employers have begun the process of evaluating their options and obligations with respect to extending benefit coverage under employer-sponsored benefit plans to same-sex spouses in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. Section 3 of DOMA provided that for all purposes of federal law the word “marriage” meant “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife,” and the word “spouse” referred “only to a person of the opposite-sex who is a husband or wife.” In June 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Windsor that Section 3 of DOMA was an unconstitutional “deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment.” The effect of this ruling is that federal law now generally will defer to state law definitions of marriage, including same-sex marriage, which has been legalized in 13 states and the District of Columbia.
As part of evaluating options for extending benefit coverage to same-sex spouses, employers need to consider the financial implications of such benefits. These implications include costs the employer will incur in extending such benefits, as well as the financial impact on employees who opt to utilize such benefits. Many of these costs are dependent upon the spousal benefits the employer currently offers, although the relevant considerations and cost estimates outlined below may be helpful resources.
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