Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

The Supreme Court will address same-sex marriage for the first time in adding a pair of closely-watched cases from California and New York to its schedule. The New York case involves the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law that limits the rights of employees married to persons of the same sex.

DOMA defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck down DOMA as unconstitutional earlier this year in Windsor v. United States, +699 F.3d 169 (2d Cir. Oct. 18, 2012).

Among its employment limitations, DOMA does not provide same-sex spouses with:

  • Equal access to the Family and Medical Leave Act;
  • The opportunity for continued COBRA coverage;
  • Insurance benefits for government employees; and
  • Social Security survivors' benefits.

DOMA also affects how the beneficiaries of same-sex spouses are treated with regard to retirement plan distributions. The Obama administration opposed DOMA in a filing with the Supreme Court.

The California case addresses the legality of gay marriage in the nation's largest state. California voters had approved Proposition 8 in 2008, which bans gay marriages. However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Perry v. Brown +671 F.3d 1052 (9th Cir. Feb. 7, 2012) (now Hollingsworth v. Perry) that Proposition 8 violates equal protection rights.

The case gives the justices the opportunity to decide whether the Constitution guarantees same-sex marriage rights nationwide or whether the issue should be left to the states. The Court also could resolve the issue on narrower grounds. There is no precedent to signal how the justices might rule.

Arguments in both cases are likely to be heard in late March with a decision expected by the end of the Supreme Court's term in June 2013.

XpertHR Legal Editors Tracy Morley and Beth P. Zoller also contributed information to this story.

Additional Resources

Supreme Court Ruling May Change the Definition of Spouse Under the FMLA

New York Appeals Court Strikes Down Defense of Marriage Act

How to Prevent Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

Employee Management > EEO - Discrimination

Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Transgender Status in the Workplace