Case of the Mondays: Same Sex Marriage & Your Work Benefits

by Meredith on July 1, 2013


I’m no attorney… I’m just an HR lady who spends a lot of time learning employment laws. I get super geeky about them, and a big one just rolled out. SQUEE!

I also understand how benefits work, so let me lay this ruling out for your from an employer’s perspective.

And, I write like I talk, so hopefully this is easy to understand, because people who use big words, just for the sake of using big words, are asshats.

I’m no asshat.

What’s DOMA?

support same sex marriageOver the past year or two, you have probably noticed that some of your Facebook friends have changed their profile pictures to a red box. These friends are coming out (no pun intended) and showing their support for same-sex marriage. Actually, for what they (myself included) think are basic human rights.

DOMA is this opposite of the red box.

DOMA is the Defense of Marriage Act. It forbids the federal government recognition of same sex marriage. DOMA denies same-sex married couples (even if their state permits same sex marriages) taxation and social security benefits.

Basically, DOMA favors straight couples. Which? Lucky you… if you were born straight.

DOMA trumps state laws?

Fuck yeah.

It’s federal law. So the federal government was like, “Screw you, gay dudes. We aren’t giving you tax breaks and other protections. We don’t care what your state thinks about gay marriage.”

Or something like that.

These states recognize same-sex marriages: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington (note: also the District of Columbia & five Native American tribes recognize it as well).

Two cases were heard before the Supreme Court regarding DOMA, and one of those cases (United States vs. Windsor) has impacts on work related benefits for same-sex married couples.

The Windsor Case

Edith Windsor and Thea Clara Spyer married in Toronto, Canada in 2007.  As residents of New York, their same-sex marriage was recognized by state law.  In 2009, Spyer passed away, leaving her estate to her spouse, Windsor.  Since the marriage between Spyer and Windsor was not recognized by federal law (because of DOMA) the federal government taxed the estate $363,000.  Had their marriage been recognized, Spyer’s estate would have qualified for a marital exemption, i.e., no taxes would have been imposed.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Windsor! A very close decision (5 to 4), ruled that this section of DOMA deprives a person of equal protection under the law in the states where same-sex marriage is permitted.

What does Windsor mean for employers in same-sex marriage states?

Windsor is going to be game changing (if your state allows same-sex marriages).

  • FMLA (the Family Medical Leave Act) leave will extend to care for a spouse, even in a same-sex marriage.
  • FMLA leave will extend to same-sex spouses for military leave for spouses of armed forces members.
  • 401K plans will probably have to recognize same-sex spouses for death benefits and surviving spouse annuities.
  • COBRA (the ability to carry company-sponsored health insurance after you leave a company) will extend to same-sex spouses.
  • Health plans (in these 13 states) that specifically define “spouse” and “marriage” as heterosexual unions will be under scrutiny – as in, that had better change.

What do I think about this?

I am freaking rejoicing.

Personally, I think DOMA is dumb and outdated. It feels a lot like separate water fountains and the back seats of busses.

Being a homosexual is not a choice. It’s how you are born. No one wakes up and says to themselves, “I am going to choose this way harder life because it’s super trendy… like riding boots.”

No one.

It’s a life that many Americans don’t even feel comfortable speaking about because of the amount of repression they receive. So if our government can stop dictating who can and cannot legally marry and receive the benefits of marriage, then by golly, they need to do it.

Meredith, do you have a same-sex marriage conspiracy theory?

Shit yeah. I totally do!

I want you to wrap your brain about this for a minute.

Is it the federal government’s place to rule on the definitions of marriage, as they did in DOMA? Nope.

It was simply a financial decision. Financially (for the feds), it made sense to deny same-sex unions. Less tax breaks and less benefits from the top was the intention.

But seriously, if they give same-sex couples the same tax breaks, the economy would be boosted because people like to SPEND MONEY ON ALL THE THINGS. Companies like tax breaks for the same reasons. When we get tax breaks, it actually boosts the economy because we hire more people, and we pay them, and they SPEND MONEY ON ALL THE THINGS.

Spending money isn’t limited to straight people. Gay people super like to spend money, too. Duh.

Gay people want to marry for the same reasons straight people want to marry. We all want to have this piece of paper, a contract, which says, I effing love this person… today… however, I am entitled to half of their shit when they die or leave me.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }


you. rock.




I work for the Social Security Administration, and we, like many places, are getting hurried “How to Handle This” emails. This should be a fun ride :)



I’m so happy you’re using your blog “platform” to bring such an important issue to people’s attention. You make an excellent point in saying that it’s all about the financials. Keep up the awesome work.



Preach it, HR lady! Straight talk, not Straight Prejudice! Okay, that was too punny, I’m bringing it down now…but still, great stuff! I have a link here for a good account of the death of DOMA by filibuster, and the shady hijinks that were pulled trying to squeak DOMA through on the nod, rules be damned…written by another chick who is definitely no asshat. :D



I want to mouth kiss this entry!


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