On September 18, 2013, the Department of Labor (DOL) reversed its prior guidance and issued Technical Release 2013-04, which expands references to “spouses” and “marriages” to validly-performed same-sex marriages, regardless of residency. This follows closely on the release of similar guidance by the IRS, as previously reported.

This new position will apply to all laws the DOL administers, as well as those it coordinates with Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Treasury (IRS). This will include ERISA, HIPAA and the Public Health Service Act, thereby covering most, if not all, of the Affordable Care Act. In its own words, “(t)he Department has coordinated with Treasury/IRS and HHS in developing this Technical Release, and agreed with those agencies that recognition of ‘spouses’ and ‘marriages’ based on the validity of the marriage in the state of celebration, rather than based on the married couple’s state of domicile, promotes uniformity in administration of employee benefit plans and affords the most protection to same-sex couples.”

While the announcement lacks specific instructions or guidance for employers, it states that the EBSA, the DOL agency responsible for employee benefit plans, intends to issue more specific plan-focused guidance. Most likely, it may require ERISA plans to cover same-sex spouses on the same terms as opposite-sex spouses.

As always, we will continue to keep you posted as more information develops.

The Technical Release can be found here (PDF). The news release can be found here.

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