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Employers reacting positively to DOMA decision

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More than three-quarters of employers have reacted positively to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, new research reveals.

The study, “Benefits for Same-Sex Couples: Impact of the DOMA Decision,” published by the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans, examines how employers are addressing the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision to overturn DOMA, which barred same-sex spouses from securing federal benefits afforded to married, heterosexual couples. Still on the books is a provision of the law that permits states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted under the laws of other states.

The foundation report reveals that 77.1 percent of employers have reacted very positively (35.6 percent) or somewhat positively (41.5 percent) to the DOMA ruling. Less than one-quarter have reacted negatively.

However, the survey also notes that that two-thirds (66 percent) of employers are reluctant to modify their employee benefits and policies until the government provides “further clarification and guidance” on the ruling’s impact.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA is a step forward for married same-sex couples, but it poses a number of questions for workers and their employers providing spousal benefits,” says Julie Stich, Research Director for the Foundation. “The decision impacts various types of employee benefits and retirement plans, and poses tax questions for both employers and employees.

“Employers have to consider how this ruling affects their health insurance in the midst of implementing Affordable Care Act provisions,” she adds. “But some employers have a head start: We found that 55 percent of those surveyed already offer some benefits to same-sex spouses and domestic partners; and almost seven percent offer benefits to same-sex married couples only.”

Among the survey’s additional findings:

  • Approximately two-thirds of organizations (67.1 percent) were paying somewhat, very or extremely close attention to the court’s DOMA decision. Only 14.9 percent of organizations paid no attention to the decision at all.
  • One-quarter of organizations (25.1 percent) have already noticed an increase in HR contacts from employees regarding the DOMA decision (most describe this as a slight increase).
  • More than half of surveyed organizations (55 percent) are located both in states where same-sex marriage is legal and in states where it is not legal. About one-quarter of these organizations (24.1 percent) say they will now extend benefit rights to all married same-sex couples even if they live in a state that does not recognize or allow same-sex marriage — 15.9 percent already do so and 40.2 percent are waiting for regulatory or legal guidance.
  • More than four in 10 organizations (44.5 percent) currently offer benefits to unmarried opposite-sex domestic partners. An additional 10.5 percent say they are now considering adding benefits for opposite-sex couples, while 5.1 percent are going the opposite direction and are considering dropping benefits for unmarried opposite-sex couples.


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