Earlier today, in Obergefell v. Hodges, No. 14-556, the U.S. Supreme Court declared, in a 5-4 ruling, that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, stated that “laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter.” Further, “the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples.” Prior to this ruling, fourteen states (including Kentucky) banned same-sex marriages.
This ruling is, of course, game-changing for individuals across the nation – impacting them on social, political and personal levels. The ruling will also influence Kentucky employers, whose practices and procedures inevitably need to be updated.
First, Kentucky employers will need to make certain administrative changes to ensure that same-sex spouses are covered. For example, employers might need to modify their enrollment or eligibility forms to ensure that health benefits are available to those with same-sex spouses. Second, Kentucky employers will need to review and, if necessary, update their leave policies – including their FMLA policy. Indeed, employers should consider all areas of employee benefits to ensure that employees with same-sex spouses receive fair treatment. Third, Kentucky employers will need to remain cognizant of the state income tax treatment of employer-provided benefits, which could change for individuals with same-sex spouses. Other changes might also need to be made.
It is now time to dust off your policies and strategize regarding employee benefit plans – and how to best attract and retain the talent in the aftermath of the Court’s ruling. The opinion’s full text is available here.