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1 Year After DOMA, Federal Agencies Announce Expansion of Benefits & Rights for LGBTQ Families, Veterans

"We will continue to work together to uphold this Administration’s fundamental commitment to equal treatment for all Americans."

Brad Kutner | June 20, 2014

One year after the historic Windsor decision the Obama Administration has released a flurry of plans to expand rights for LGBTQ families of federal employees, as well as families of veterans.

“I am pleased to report that agencies across the federal government have implemented the Windsor decision to treat married same-sex couples the same as married opposite-sex couples for the benefits and obligations for which marriage is relevant, to the greatest extent possible under the law,” Attorney General Holder wrote in the memorandum to President Obama. “The implementation of the Windsor decision across the entire federal government is an accomplishment that reflects countless hours of hard work, cooperation, and coordination across agencies. As additional issues arise, we will continue to work together to uphold this Administration’s fundamental commitment to equal treatment for all Americans, and to extend this fundamental equality to all Americans.”

Here’s a breakdown of the changes announced today

Adding medical leave for same-sex couples

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez has released a proposed rule extending the protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to all eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages regardless of where they live.

The 1993 FMLA, which the Department of labor said has benefited millions of employees so far, entitles employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical reasons. An example given by the Department of labor included an employee taking FMLA leave to care for a seriously sick spouse.

“The basic promise of the FMLA is that no one should have to choose between succeeding at work and being a loving family caregiver,” said Secretary Perez. “Under the proposed revisions, the FMLA will be applied to all families equally, enabling individuals in same-sex marriages to fully exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities to their families.”

The proposed rule would change the definition of “spouse” to include same-sex couples in legal marriage even if the state they live in does not recognize their marriage. Currently same-sex families are bound by the laws of the states they reside in, this proposed law change would over-ride this to recognize the law from the state where the couple was married – this includes straight couples as well.


Changes to Social-Security Benefits 

The Social-Security Administration has released new instructions which allow for more claims to be processed in which  entitlement or eligibility is affected by a same-sex relationship.

Similar to the Department of Labor, the SSA recognized the one year anniversary of the Windsor decision as playing a part in the release of these new rules.

“As with previous same-sex marriage policies, we worked closely with the Department of Justice,” said Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. “We are bound by the law within the Social Security Act, and we have to respect state laws.  We remain committed to treating all Americans fairly, with dignity, and respect.”

You can find out more information about how SS eligibility has changed here.


Expanded Benefits for Same-sex couples in the Military 

Since the death of section 3 of DOMA, the Obama Administration has been working to expand benefits to same-sex couples when possible, and they stressed how this would affect couples in the military back in Sept, 2013.

So far, the Fed has allowed same-sex marriages to be recognized for all federal tax purposes, health insurance and retirement benefits are available for same-sex spouses of all federal employees, and the Defense Department will provide spousal benefits for same-sex spouses of military service members.

Sadly, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs are unable to follow “place of celebration” laws as limited by congress, forcing these agencies to recognize laws state-by-state, and not in a broader federal contex.

But today,  the VA Acting Secretary announced he will exercise his broad statutory discretion in the area of burial benefits to designate any individual in a committed relationship for burial in a national cemetery, despite an individual state’s recognition status.

In addition, SSA will extend survivor benefits, lump sum death benefits and aged spouse benefits to same-sex couples if one partner could inherit from the other partner on the same terms as a spouse under state law.

“VA worked closely with DOJ to develop guidance to process cases involving same-sex marriages and to implement necessary changes swiftly and smoothly in order to deliver the best services to all eligible Veterans,” said Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D. Gibson.

You can find more details about changes to veterans benefits here