Yesterday, the federal government announced several regulatory changes that extend marriage benefits to same-sex couples. This announcement — and the legal changes that come with it — are the result of last year’s historic Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Windsor striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) which previously prohibited the federal government from recognizing the validity of same-sex marriages.
As a result of the Windsor decision, President Obama ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to review the government’s regulations to ensure that same-sex married couples were being treated similarly to opposite-sex married couples across the broad spectrum of federal benefits. Yesterday, Attorney General Holder issued a formal memorandum summarizing the many ways in which the Windsor decision had been implemented throughout the federal government to ensure the equal treatment of same-sex married couples. You can find the Attorney General’s memorandum here.
Most relevant to California employers, the Department of Labor announced yesterday a proposed rule that would change the definition of “spouse” under the federal Family & Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). This change will allow gay or lesbian employees in California (and all 50 states) to take a family leave of absence under FMLA to care for their same-sex spouse or other family member. You can find yesterday’s announcement about the proposed new FMLA rule here.
This decision by the Department of Labor comes after similar decisions by other federal agencies. These include the IRS allowing same-sex married couples to file joint tax returns; the Department of Defense allowing same-sex spouses of military service members to receive the same benefits as opposite sex spouses; the Department of Justice allowing same-sex couples to refuse to testify against each other and to file joint bankruptcy petitions; the Department of Homeland Security treating same-sex marriages identically to opposite-sex marriages for purposes of immigration; and the same-sex spouses of all federal employees now being eligible for health insurance and other benefits to the same extent as opposite-sex spouses.