August 8, 2011

New York Is Latest Jurisdiction to License Same-Gender Marriages

On July 24, 2011, a law authorizing same-gender marriage took effect in New York State.1 New York joins six other U.S. jurisdictions that currently license same-gender marriages.

Other Jurisdictions that License Same-Gender Marriages

Massachusetts was the first state to license same-gender marriages.2 Other New England states followed Massachusetts’ lead: Connecticut,3 Vermont4 and New Hampshire.5 (In 2009, Maine passed a law allowing same-gender marriage that was repealed by Maine voters later that year.) Iowa licenses same-gender marriages in response to a court decision from that state’s highest court.6 The District of Columbia started to license same-gender marriages in 2010.7

Complexity in California

On the West Coast, California licensed same-gender marriages between June and November 2008, but stopped doing so in response to the November 2008 voter-approved ban on same-gender marriages. The state’s highest court upheld that ban in May 2009, but concluded that the approximately 18,000 marriages that had taken place remained valid.8 Federal court litigation challenging California’s ban on same-gender marriage is still pending.

Other Approaches to Recognizing Same-Gender Relationships

Licensing same-gender marriages is just one way that states have acted to recognize these relationships. States have also licensed civil unions and created statewide domestic partner registries as vehicles for formalizing same-gender relationships, while others have announced they will officially recognize same-gender marriages from other states. These approaches, coupled with the recent developments noted above on same-gender marriage, contribute to an ever-changing landscape of approaches to relationship recognition.

Implications for Plan Sponsors

As more states license same-gender marriages and as married couples from these states move around the country, it becomes increasingly likely that employers and other health plan sponsors will face questions from plan participants about benefits for their spouses. For assistance in developing a policy on coverage for same-sex spouses and understanding the tax issues created by the unfavorable tax treatment under federal law, health plan sponsors should consult The Segal Company’s Same-Gender Marriage: Action Steps for Health Plan Sponsors.

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As with all issues involving the interpretation or application of laws and regulations, plan sponsors should rely on their attorneys for authoritative advice on the interpretation and application of state marriage laws. Segal can be retained to work with plan sponsors as they sort through the complex issues they will confront as they consider extending benefits to same-sex spouses.

1
The law, the Marriage Equality Act, which pass passed on June 24, 2011, is available on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s website. (Return to the Capital Checkup.)
2
Massachusetts’ recognition of same-gender marriage is the result of an November 18, 2003 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which is available on the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries website. For a summary, see Segal’s January 2004 Bulletin, “Benefit Implications of the Massachusetts Court Ruling Allowing Same-Gender Marriage”. (Return to the Capital Checkup.)
3
Connecticut’s recognition of same-gender marriage is the result of an October 28, 2008 decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court, which is available on the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch website. For a summary, see Segal’s January 2009 Bulletin, “Connecticut Licenses Same-Gender Marriages”. (Return to the Capital Checkup.)
4
Vermont’s law, which became law by legislative override of the governor’s veto, is available on the state’s website. (Return to the Capital Checkup.)
5
On June 3, 2009, three related bills were signed into law in New Hampshire: an Act relative to civil marriage and civil unions, an Act affirming religious freedom protections with regard to marriage and prohibiting the establishment of civil unions on or after January 1, 2010, and an Act relative to reimbursement of mileage for judges and marital masters and relative to civil marriage and civil unions. (Return to the Capital Checkup.)
6
The court’s decision is available on the Iowa Judicial Branch website. (Return to the Capital Checkup.)
7
The law, which was signed on December 18, 2009, is available on the Council of the District of Columbia website. (Return to the Capital Checkup.)
8
A press release about the California Supreme Court’s decision is available on the Court’s website. (Return to the Capital Checkup.)

Capital Checkup is The Segal Company's periodic electronic newsletter summarizing activity with respect to health care and related subjects. Capital Checkup is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide guidance on current laws or pending legislation. On all issues involving the interpretation or application of laws and regulations, plan sponsors should rely on their attorneys for legal advice.

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