Impact of Supreme Court’s DOMA Decision on Employee Benefit Plans: Updated to Reflect Revenue Ruling 2013-17

September 5, 2013
Harter Secrest & Emery LLP

HSE LEGALcurrents


On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court, in United States v. Windsor, ruled that Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional as a deprivation of due process and equal rights under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, because it deprived individuals of rights granted to them by state law. Section 3 of DOMA defined “marriage” as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” for purposes of all federal laws. In a related case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Supreme Court held that the individuals challenging a federal district court decision prohibiting the state government from enforcing Proposition 8’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage lacked standing to do so. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals responded to the decision by lifting a stay order against same-sex marriages and California officials have interpreted the Supreme Court’s decision as authorizing same-sex marriage in California.

On August 29, 2013, the IRS issued Revenue Ruling 2013-17, which establishes a basic framework for recognition of same-sex marriage under the federal Internal Revenue Code, providing a path forward on many important employee benefits issues related to same-sex marriage. Although Revenue Ruling 2013-17 confirms that the IRS will issue additional guidance specific to employee benefit plans (addressing, among other things, Windsor’s implications for periods prior to DOMA’s invalidation and plan amendment requirements), the Ruling provides employers with much-needed certainty regarding ongoing plan administration.

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