Author: Beth P. Zoller, XpertHR Legal Editor

In the recent election four states - Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington - demonstrated their increased support for same-sex marriage. This comes directly on the heels of New York's highest court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and greatly impacts the rights of gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals in the workplace as well as benefits for partners in same-sex marriages in those states. See NY Appeals Court Strikes Down Defense of Marriage Act.

Specifically, Maine voters approved a measure that would allow the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, effective December 7, 2012. In Maryland, voters passed the Civil Marriage Protection Act, also allowing same-sex couples to obtain a marriage license beginning January 1, 2013. In Washington, the Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6329 - effective December 6, 2012 - was approved allowing same sex couples the right to marry. In Minnesota, voters rejected a constitutional amendment providing that only the union of one man and one woman was valid or recognized as marriage in that state.

In light of these recent developments, a total of nine states now approve same-sex marriage. These are: Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia. An additional 12 states allow same-sex couples to enter into domestic partnerships or civil unions in which same-sex couples are afforded similar rights to heterosexual couples.

The approval of measures in support of same-sex marriage represents a significant step in the civil rights of gays, lesbians and transgender individuals and will allow same-sex spouses and partners in same sex relationships the right to obtain the same benefits as heterosexual spouses or partners. Further, while the federal Defense of Marriage Act (defining marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman) remains on the books, there have been considerable challenges to this in the lower courts as made clear by the decision in New York.

On November 20, 2012, the US Supreme Court will consider whether it will consider the issue of same-sex marriage and the constitutionality of DOMA. If the Court does decide to hear the issue, a decision regarding the future of DOMA and marriage equality could come sometime in 2013.

Employers should consult XpertHR regularly on this topic as this is an emerging issue that could have widespread implications in the workplace.

Additional Resources

NY Appeals Court Strikes Down Defense of Marriage Act

How to Prevent Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

Gender Stereotyping Sexual Harassment Claim May Be Brought Regardless of Plaintiff's Sexual Orientation

Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Transgender Status in the Workplace

Employee Management > EEO - Discrimination: Maine

Employee Management > EEO - Discrimination: Maryland

Employee Management > EEO - Discrimination: Washington

Employee Management > EEO - Discrimination: Minnesota

Employee Benefits > Benefit Planning and Design

Employee Benefits > Managing Health Care Costs

Payroll > Taxation of Employee Benefits