Same-sex marriage issue poses challenge in OK, attorney says

Six months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as being unconstitutional because it violated the principles of equal protection, confusion remains as to what exactly the ruling means for employers in states like Oklahoma that do not recognize same-sex marriage. Charlie Plumb, a labor and employment attorney with McAfee & Taft, was asked to sort out the key issues by The Oklahoman.

“The landmark ruling in Windsor v. United States had the effect of redefining the terms ‘marriage’ and ‘spouse’ for the purpose of extending federal rights and benefits to same-sex couples who were married in states that recognize same-sex marriages,” said Plumb. “So even if a same-sex couple that was legally married in Iowa later moves to Oklahoma — a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage — that couple is still afforded benefits and rights under federal law.”

Plumb went on to correct some common misconceptions about the Windsor ruling, explaining that the ruling did not overturn the Defense of Marriage Act entirely, nor did it require states to recognize same-sex marriages. It also did not make sexual orientation a protected class for purposes of federal employment discrimination laws.

While the federal government has already issued some guidance in the areas of tax, employee benefits and employment law, Plumb said more regulations are expected in 2014, particularly in the area of employee benefits law as it pertains to qualified retirement plans and the taxation of employer-provided health coverage to spouses.