What the legalization of same-sex marriage means for Oklahoma employers

same-sex rings

By Jim Prince

On Monday, Oklahoma became one of five additional U.S. states required to allow same-sex couples to marry after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review lower court decisions that overturned state bans on same-sex marriage.

The other four states immediately affected by the decision were Indiana, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Six other states with similar bans — Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming — are also affected by the decision because they are covered by the rulings of the Tenth Circuit and Fourth Circuit Courts of Appeals.

Employer requirements post-Windsor

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in United States v. Windsor in June 2013, federal law required employers to recognize all legally valid same-sex marriages — regardless of the state in which the couple resided — for all federal tax and ERISA Title 1 purposes. Those requirements remain unchanged. Monday’s action simply expanded the number of states where same-sex couples can legally marry.

For Oklahoma employers, here’s a quick rundown of the implications related to same-sex spouses:

  • Tax-qualified retirement plans — Same-sex spouses must be treated the same as opposite-sex spouses. Additionally, if an employer-sponsored retirement plan currently defines “spouse” or “marriage” as between two people of the opposite gender, the plan documents must be amended by December 31, 2014.
  • Spousal health care coverage — Federal law, including the Affordable Care Act, does not require employers to provide coverage to either same-sex or opposite-sex spouses. However, private-sector employers who now wish to extend benefits to same-sex spouses need to amend their plan documents to reflect this change.