The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last summer on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has wide-reaching effects on areas of law other than marriage. In particular, employment law, as it relates to marriage, has changed with this DOMA ruling. The most apparent change is in states that recognize same-sex marriages and now must offer employment benefits, which range from insurance to pensions plans, to same-sex couples.
According to a news release by The New York Times, the ruling included the statement that DOMA “imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper…the federal statute is invalid…” The Supreme Court’s ruling upheld each state’s sovereign right to govern marriage as defined by the state.
What implications will this ruling have on employment law in Pennsylvania? While Pennsylvania is not a state that recognizes same-sex marriage, same-sex federal workers living in Pennsylvania now have the same benefits as heterosexual couples. Also, under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), same-sex spouses have benefits rights when their partners participate in employer-sponsored ERISA plans.
We are entering uncharted legal territory for Pennsylvania courts, and newly-developed and developing Pennsylvania case law must determine how the Supreme Court’s ruling is applied. Questions arise, such as: how do employment benefits apply for couples who relocate for job purposes but were married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage?
If you have issues or concerns about the change in DOMA, it is wise to consult an employment lawyer for legal guidance.
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