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Supreme Court Declines to Rule on Same-Sex Marriage Cases - What Does This Mean for Employers?

    Client Alerts
  • October 10, 2014
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from five states seeking to uphold same-sex marriage bans. At issue was the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. The Fourth, Seventh and Tenth Circuits, which are the federal appeals courts covering these five states, previously struck down each state’s same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional. The rulings were put on hold as both parties in each case appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the cases on Monday effectively cleared the way for same-sex marriages in all five states.

Although not part of the underlying cases, six additional states that ban same-sex marriages are covered by the Fourth and Tenth Circuits: North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming. While the precise legal impact of the rulings in these six states remains somewhat unclear, the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the cases means that federal courts in these six additional states must follow, as binding precedent, the Fourth and Tenth Circuits’ decisions to find same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. Therefore, it is likely that same-sex marriages will be permitted (or same-sex marriages performed in other states be recognized) in these six states as well. The status of other same-sex marriage bans in the remaining states also will evolve as legal challenges make their way through the federal courts in those jurisdictions.

While some uncertainty continues to exist, employers in states like North Carolina and South Carolina can soon anticipate changes to their employee benefit plans. For example, employers that offer fully-insured medical, dental and/or vision benefits to opposite-sex spouses, may soon be required to extend coverage to same-sex spouses. Similarly, to the extent same-sex spouses are covered by an employer’s health plan, it is likely that employers will no longer be required to impute income for state tax purposes for the fair market value of coverage for same-sex spouses. Stay tuned as additional guidance is released from various courts and governmental agencies.