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.

FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. edmondo says:

    There’s no legal basis for extending those benefits to other types of relationships — whether its domestic partnerships or civil unions —

    Does this set up the next big Supreme Court fight? Since most states prohibit same sex marriage, is this not discriminatory against gay people and therefore illegal?

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I rather suspect the memo was drawn up to drive home the point that inequality in marriage still exists across large portions of our country. If not for that reason, it is definitely a perk.

  3. Andrei Vfeked says:

    I agree with our esteemed Mr. HillBilly on this one. It is an astute political move to quickly and unequivocally say “nope” to the benefits applying to civil union partners. It adds a substantial log to the fire for those fighting against the notion of civil unions being “good enough” as compared to actual marriage for homosexuals. This will actually be the most tangible argument they will now have at their disposal.

    For those that wish to hasten the inevitable, that being legal recognition of gay marriage in all 50 states, this is a good thing.

  4. Interesting also is that they are using place of celebration instead of place of residence to determine applicability of benefits.

  5. JKB says:

    This is just routine. When issuing a memo to bureaucrats, one must anticipate the stupidest interpretations. Mostly to avoid an unending stream of questions.

    When I was in DC, I got stuck with implementing the Shelter in Place plan. Which mostly consisted of a couple meetings, a box of plastic and tape and a few cases of water. Later they added a first aid kit. Most “coordinators” just stuck the box under the desk to be forgotten when needed. I decided to “do it right”. I took a file cabinets, marked and labeled it and put the “kit” inside. I then locked it as this was cubeland and it would either be pilfered or used for smelly gym clothes otherwise. Once you see people continue to throw paper on the floor where the recycle box used to be, you’ll understand. So I picked up this plastic box designed to hold a key and require breaking to get it out in an emergency. On the mandatory SIP orientation, two people asked me how to get the key out of the box. One was my boss. I first considered giving them a personal SIP kit of a dry cleaning bag and a rubber band. But these are bureaucrats and one was relatively high ranking, so such a move was dangerous. Not as an insult but because the personal kit might become a status symbol. I still wonder on occasion, what will become of them when a SIP emergency is called and they are confronted with a locked cabinet with the key in a plastic box.

  6. Lisa says:

    I think this is one of those no news stories as in March OPM submitted in their FY 2014 Budget Request changing the benefits to state “other person”, as private companies do now. The intention was to work around DOMA. If DOMA would not have been overturned OPM was prepared to go another route. If the budget passes as written Domestic Partners will have rights to benefits.

  7. Lisa says:

    The actual term used in the request is “self-plus-one coverage”.

  8. wr says:

    @JKB: It’s nice to learn that you are so much smarter than everyone around you. Really, it must be such and honor and pleasure to work with you.

  9. bill says:

    nice, maybe the next round of whiners will be those who are just too damned lazy to actually get married- and they’re being singled out for it…..and discriminated against.

  10. Hi to every one, it’s really a good for me to pay a visit this web site, it consists of useful Information.