The United States Department of Justice announced new policies on the recognition of same-sex couples in accordance with the landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court in United States vs. Windsor. Many other federal offices, such as the Department of Defense and the Internal Revenue Service, also have taken steps to comply with this decision.
The 5-4 decision was issued on June 26, 2013, and struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. According to the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, DOMA’s third section is “a deprivation of liberty … by the Fifth Amendment.”
The opinion also said that DOMA is a violation of the due process and equal protection clauses, and it promotes inequality before the law.
Assistant Professor of History and Political Science Maryam Stevenson said that these policy changes are an answer to the mandate U.S. vs. Windsor established.
She said that a delayed reaction is not uncommon between Supreme Court decisions and other political bodies, citing the example Brown vs. Board of Education, which took multiple rulings before desegregation in the schools was enforced.
“The Supreme Court does not have enforcement capabilities,” she said. “So the federal government can act on it [a decision] on a case-by-case basis. It looks like that is what they are doing here.”
U.S Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Feb. 10 that the federal government would recognize health insurance and other benefits for federal employees and their families; a uniform policy ensuring that all same-sex married couples are recognized for federal tax purposes; and a policy dictating that same-sex and opposite-sex marriages are treated exactly the same for purposes of immigration law.
Holder also said that the DOJ worked with the Department of Defense to determine that members of the military who are in same-sex marriages will receive the same benefits available to opposite-sex married couples.
“These [same-sex] marriages were valid when they were celebrated, and the federal government will acknowledge them as such,” Holder said. “And we will continue to coordinate with others across the government to ensure that those in lawful same-sex marriages across the country will receive every benefit to which they are entitled.”
Stevenson said that this decision allows same-sex married couples federal benefits, whereas before they were only eligible if a state chose to extend benefits to same-sex couples.
“It requires the federal government not just to recognize same-sex marriage where it is legal, but to extend the same federal benefits that they would afford to heterosexual couples who are in a legal marriage,” she said.
Benefits Manager at UIndy Carol Fairhead said that the Family Medical Leave Act is a benefit that is determined by state laws on same-sex unions, rather than federal policy. According to the U.S. Department of Labor website, the FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.
According to Fairhead, the benefits that UIndy offers to same-sex married couples is the same as what they offer to heterosexual couples. These benefits are medical, dental and vision insurance, COBRA and the faculty and staff tuition discount. UIndy also offers these benefits to same-sex partners, but there is a difference in how taxes are filed and whether the benefits are pre-tax or post-tax.
UIndy instituted same-sex partner benefits in 2010, before it was required. Fairhead said that UIndy saw that it could better attract the best and brightest if it extended benefits to same-sex partners and spouses. Fairhead also said that this goes along with UIndy’s culture of non-discrimination and inclusion.
“It was to attract the best-qualified candidates,” Fairhead said. “It is a big thing to not have your partner eligible for benefits, and that was lowering the pool of applicants.”