On Sept. 18, the Labor Department stated that legally married same-sex couples will enjoy the same federal rights and benefits as all married couples, regardless of state laws. The benefits included 401(k) plans and health plans, according to The Associated Press. This is as a big victory for same-sex couples who live in states that do not recognize their marriage.
In August, the Internal Revenue Service also stated that same-sex couples can file joint tax returns even if their union is not recognized by the state in which they live. The clarification by the Labor Department comes after the June Supreme Court ruling of United States v. Windsor, according to Reuters. The Supreme Court ruled a part of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, affording same-sex married couples the same benefits as all couples, such as the ability to sponsor a spouse for a visa or green card.
“This decision represents a historic step toward equality for all American families, and I have directed the department’s agency heads to ensure that they are implementing the decision in a way that provides maximum protection for workers and their families,” Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a statement.
The ruling calls for retirement and health benefit plans to recognize same-sex couples in all states throughout the country. While same-sex marriage is legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia, the new interpretation by the Labor Department will allow the same worker benefits in all other states throughout the country, even those that don’t recognize same-sex marriage.
The statement by the Labor Department provides more consistency among federal agencies regarding this issue. While many states have not overturned same-sex marriage laws, federal agencies such as the IRS are providing new mandates throughout the country.
The question over past benefits is yet to be sorted out. While same-sex couples who will get married in the near future benefit from IRS and Labor Department rulings, it is unclear whether couples once denied tax breaks or health benefits will be paid compensation.