Federal Benefits For Married Employees Won’t Apply To Employees Who Aren’t Married
In making an announcement about how it will handle employee benefits in the light of the Supreme Court striking down Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Federal Government stated what I would think is the rather obvious:
The Obama administration will not extend federal-worker benefits to domestic partners under the Supreme Court ruling that overturned part of the Defense of Marriage Act, meaning the government will treat civil unions differently than legal same-sex marriages.
The Office of Personnel Management made that announcement in a series of memos to federal benefits administrators and insurance carriers, saying couples who are not legally married “will remain ineligible for most federal benefits programs.” However, any existing benefits provided to domestic partners will remain intact, OPM said.
The recent Supreme Court decision overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which had prohibited the government from recognizing same-sex marriage for purposes of federal benefits programs. The 1996 law prevented same-sex spouses of federal workers from receiving coverage through their partners’ plans.
The Obama administration responded to the Supreme Court ruling by making health, vision and dental benefits available to all same-sex spouses and children of legally married federal employees. In a memo on Wednesday, OPM said those guidelines will apply to all federal workers, regardless of whether they live in states that have banned same-sex marriage — Virginia, Ohio and Mississippi, for example.
That means same sex couples living anywhere in the U.S. will qualify for federal-employee benefits as long as they hold marriage licenses from any of the 13 states that recognize same-sex marriage, as well as from the District of Columbia, which has also legalized such unions.
I’m not even sure why this would be surprising. Federal law sets forth certain benefits for employees and their spouses. Up until two weeks ago, same-sex couples that were legally married have been forbidden from receiving those benefits. The only thing that the decision in United States v. Windsor should mean is that those same benefits extended to straight couples who are legally married must now be extended to same-sex couples who are legally married. There’s no legal basis for extending those benefits to other types of relationships — whether its domestic partnerships or civil unions — unless the law is specifically changed to include them. Perhaps this memo was meant to clear up some bureaucratic mess or something, but the answer seems rather obvious to me. Then again, I’m not a Federal Government bureaucrat.