DOMA Goes Down - Now What?

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA is a federal law that had defined "marriage" since 1996 as between one man and one woman for purposes of interpreting any other federal law or Internal Revenue Code provisions governing employee benefit plans. 

The ruling means that federal benefits provided to heterosexual married couples must also be provided to legally-married same sex couples. Thirteen states, the District of Columbia, and five Native American tribes currently grant marriage certificates to same sex couples. 

There are more than one thousand federal benefits associated with legal marriage. So, it will likely take a while for the federal government to complete a full evaluation of the impact of this ruling. Clearly, however, this decision will have widespread implications for legally married same sex couples across the country, possibly including those who don’t currently live in a state that has legal gay marriage (such as Pennsylvania).

Lehigh has provided benefits to same and opposite sex domestic partners since 2003. Still, the Supreme Court’s decision may impact our gay and lesbian employees who are legally married, specifically with regard to the taxation of benefits. 

Human Resources will continue to monitor the federal government’s review of all laws affected by the ruling. We will update you as we learn more about any changes that may result for our employees.