The Death of DOMA: What Does It Mean For HR?

Evan Rodd, PayScale

2013 is shaping up to be a big year for healthcare benefits in the US, and Human Resources professionals are starting to ask: What do these changes mean for my company’s benefits program?

The Supreme Court recently overturned section 3 of DOMA (Defense Of Marriage Act), which imposed a federal mandate limiting marriage to opposite sex couples. The courts also ruled on California’s same-sex marriage ban Proposition 8. Supporters’ appeals of a lower court’s ruling that struck down Prop. 8 were rejected, as the law is no longer on their side. It is very likely that this ruling will lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage in California.

You may have heard that same-sex marriage is not legal in the US, but that’s not exactly the case. The death of DOMA means that same-sex couples living in any of the 13 states where same-sex marriage is legal – Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington (state and DC) – now have access to the same federal benefits and tax rights as opposite-sex couples.

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HR professionals in any of these states should keep an eye on the following: FMLA coverage, COBRA coverage, ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) plans, and HIPAA rules. Here’s a quick rundown of the areas where you may need to adjust your policies:


  • Under FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) employees with a same-sex spouse are now able to take unpaid time off to care for an ill family member, such as a spouse.
  • Same-Sex Spouses are now legally protected when it comes to obtaining COBRA benefits, and are able to have their own COBRA election rights.
  • Any reimbursed expenses incurred by a same-sex spouse under a Flexible Spending Arrangement (FSA) Health Savings Account (HSA) or Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) will, most likely, no longer be taxable. Additionally, same-sex couples will now have the same rights as opposite-sex couples in regards to retirement plans. Keep a watchful eye on survivor benefits and hardship withdrawals.
  • It is expected that all HIPAA special enrollment rights will now be awarded to same-sex couples as well.


These new updates in benefits currently only apply to same-sex couples whose marriages are recognized by state law, not civil unions or domestic partnerships. Even if your state does not currently recognize same-sex marriage, it would be wise to familiarize yourself with areas where your benefits program may change with new legislation.

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Tena Spratt

White paper please on pay inequities.