Matt Grosh recently talked about Cam and Mitchell from Modern Family as a backdrop to the IRS’s recent revenue ruling. That ruling recognized same-sex marriages for federal tax purposes even when a couple resides in a state that does not permit same-sex marriages. The couple must only have been validly married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage.
After last summer’s Supreme Court decision analyzing the Defense of Marriage Act, numerous questions arose regarding legal treatment of same sex couples. Employers were confused about their obligations regarding benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans. After consultation with the Department of Justice and the Department of Treasury (Internal Revenue Service), the United States Department of Labor (DOL) issued Guidance to Employee Benefits Plans on the definition of spouse and marriage.
The DOL advised that employers are to recognize "spouses" and "marriages" based on the validity of the marriage in the state where the couple was married rather than the state where they reside. The DOL concluded that such an interpretation would make it easier for employers to uniformly administer benefits to all employees, in addition to offering more protection to same-sex couples. In effect, the Department of Labor Regulations, Rulings, Opinions and Exemptions will assume that the term "spouse" refers to any individual who is legally married under any state law. Consistent with the IRS ruling, the terms "spouse" and "marriage" will not include individuals in domestic partnerships or civil unions.