DOL Releases Guidance for Benefit Plans Regarding Same Sex Marriages

Mark Buckberg, CPA, CFE, CFF

The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) has provided guidance inlogoresponse to the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. Technical Release No. 2013-04 states that, in general, the terms “spouse” and “marriage” include same-sex couples legally married in any state or foreign jurisdiction that recognizes these marriages. This is applicable to all laws and regulations within the EBSA’s jurisdiction, which includes Title I of ERISA, as well as COBRA and HIPAA.

In this ruling the DOL has provided a uniform rule, recognizing same-sex couples that are legally married, but living in a state that does not recognize such marriages. Per the Release, “A rule that recognizes marriages that are valid in the state in which they were celebrated, regardless of the married couple’s state of domicile, provides a uniform rule of recognition that can be applied with certainty by stakeholders, including employers, plan administrators, participants, and beneficiaries.”

Release No. 2013-04 notes specifically that while same-sex marriages will be recognized, civil unions and domestic partnerships will not be treated as marriages for purpose of ERISA and other DOL regulations. For more information on which states currently recognize same-sex marriages, please see this chart from our tax blog.

While this pronouncement does provide some much-needed guidance, additional details are needed from the IRS and other agencies to further clarify benefits and taxation issues surrounding married same-sex couples. In particular, forthcoming details from the IRS are needed for benefit plans to clarify necessary plan amendments and corrections in light of the recent tax ruling regarding this subject.

Please click here for the EBSA’s official press release regarding this announcement. We will be providing additional updates as they occur regarding this and other regulations.

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