U.S. Supreme Court Says Same-Sex Marriage Must Be Allowed Nationwide

Miller & Martin PLLC Alerts | June 26, 2015


One day before the end of its 2014-2015 term, the United States Supreme Court has issued the long-awaited decision regarding the nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage.

There were two questions before the Court in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, which was accepted by the Supreme Court on appeal from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio.

On the first, the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution requires a State to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of State.

On the second, the Court went a step further to hold that the Fourteenth Amendment also requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex.

This second holding makes it illegal for any State to refuse to recognize same-sex marriage, even if the legislature of the State has passed a law or the citizens of the State have approved a State constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

This 5-4 decision makes same-sex marriage legal immediately in Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio. It will become legal in the other 10 States which currently have bans of some form in place once the courts of those States adopt this decision.

In anticipation of this decision, many employers already have been asking questions regarding what the mandatory recognition of same-sex marriage will mean to their employee benefit plans.

Neither the ACA nor any other federal law requires employers to provide health insurance or any other benefits to any employee spouse or other dependents. Among those employers who choose to provide such benefits, many have attempted to avoid the same-sex marriage debate by defining "spouse" for purposes of their dependent benefit plans as "an opposite-sex spouse" or "a spouse, as this term is defined by the State in which each employee resides." The first approach now will be challenged under this new Supreme Court opinion, which mandates the equal treatment of all lawful marriages in all States. The second approach will have no effect now, since under this opinion States no longer have the ability to define marriage in such a way as to prohibit same-sex unions.

On a final note, this decision does not mean that sexual orientation is now a protected class nationwide. Congress will have to pass a law amending Title VII in order for that to happen. We will of course keep you updated on further developments in this area.

As always, should you have any questions regarding this new Supreme Court decision, please feel free to contact any member of our Labor & Employment Law Practice Group.

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