The Department of Labor announced Wednesday that employers should recognize the legally performed marriages of same-sex couples when considering retirement plans or any provision that is governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Continuing the “place of celebration” precedent for marriages, this guidance means that same-sex couples who are legally married in a state that recognizes their unions can claim retirement benefits in any state:
The term “marriage” will be read to include a same-sex marriage that is legally recognized as a marriage under any state law. This is the most natural reading of those terms; it is consistent with Windsor, in which the plaintiff was seeking tax benefits under a statute that used the term “spouse”; and a narrower interpretation would not further the purposes of the relevant statutes and regulations.
Like benefits for federal employees, however, the benefits will not be extended to civil unions or domestic partnerships:
The terms “spouse” and “marriage,” however, do not include individuals in a formal relationship recognized by a state that is not denominated a marriage under state law, such as a domestic partnership or a civil union, regardless of whether the individuals who are in these relationships have the same rights and responsibilities as those individuals who are married under state law.
This is particularly problematic for New Jersey state officials defending the civil unions law, who claim that the state’s civil unions for same-sex couples are equal to marriages. In fact, they blame the federal government for discriminating against civil unions. Of course, civil unions were only invented for the sole purpose of not using the word “marriage.” It’s New Jersey that continues to discriminate by forcing same-sex couples into a separate-and-now-not-equal status.