- The Supreme Court on Friday delivered a historic victory for gay rights, ruling 5-4 that the Constitution requires that same-sex couples be allowed to marry no matter where they live. For HR, it delivers much needed clarity on the employee benefits front.
- In all states, married same-sex couples will be given access to the same types of benefits as opposite-sex unions.
- Advocates called it the most pressing civil rights issue of modern times, while critics said the courts had sent the country into uncharted territory by changing the traditional definition of marriage.
For HR, striking down marriage bans will have its biggest impact on employee benefits. In the 20 states that have already legalized gay marriage, benefits will not change. But for the rest of the states, change may be confusing at first.
One immediate result will be reduced stress for the LGBT worker who is concerned about their employer finding out they are gay. But benefits, including healthcare, family leave and related issues, will take center stage. In states that have not legalized gay marriage, they will need to change their benefits plans to follow the law. This may take some time.
In its decision, the majority made it clear that the equal protection clause gives gay couples the same rights to get married and, by extension, have the same rights to benefits from their employers. Bottom line, employers should begin offering identical benefit options to married gay couples they already offer to heterosexual employees and their partners. On the other hand, some employers may end current domestic partner benefits, meaning LGBT employees would have to marry to get those benefits. So for the short term, it's a mixed bag.