U.S. Department of Labor Announces Plan to Follow “State of Celebration” Rule

By:  Helen M. Smith, Esquire                                                       hsmith@pklaw.com

Following the lead of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration has announced that it will apply the term “spouses” and “marriages” based on the validity of the marriage in the state of celebration, rather than based on the married couple’s state of domicile, for purposes of interpreting the meaning of the terms for employee benefit laws.

The Agency said such a determination promotes uniformity in administration of employee benefit plans, and affords the most protection to same-sex couples. Thus, the term “spouse” will be read to refer to any individuals who are lawfully married under any state law, including individuals married to a person of the same sex who were legally married in a state that recognizes such marriages, but who are domiciled in a state that does not recognize such marriages. Similarly, the term “marriage” will be read to include a same-sex marriage that is legally recognized as a marriage under any state law.

The term “state” is any state of the U.S., the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, Wake Island, the Northern Mariana Islands, any other territory or possession of the U.S., and any foreign jurisdiction having the legal authority to sanction marriages.

As with other applications of the definitions, NOT included are domestic partnerships or civil unions.  Almost uniformly all states and the federal government are making clear that “marriage” means just that, even though those in domestic partnerships and civil unions may have the same rights as married couples under state law.

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