The American Benefits Council is calling on the Obama administration to issue guidance regarding this summer’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. The Council applauds the court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, but, in a letter sent Wednesday, it points out the new challenges facing employers who sponsor employee benefits in multiple states.

“In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act, employers who sponsor health and retirement benefit plans for workers and their spouses are in urgent need of guidance indicating how to comply with federal law,” said James A. Klein, president of the American Benefits Council.

The letter, sent to the IRS as well as the Departments of Treasury, Labor and Health and Human Services, asks for clarification on “the threshold question [of] who a plan should treat as a spouse under applicable federal law.” The current law, it says, is unclear as to the benefits-relevant definition of a “spouse” as it relates to same-sex couples.

“Any rule that is adopted must allow for the uniform administration of plans at the federal level,” the letter reads. ABC backs administrative rules that would determine marriage by the “state of celebration” (i.e., whether an individual holds a valid state marriage license) rather than the laws applicable to their current state of domicile. A “state of domicile” rule “would be much more difficult and expensive for benefit plans to administer,” the letter reads.

Additional topics ABC says require clarification:

  • Possible retroactive application of benefits
  • The treatment of health coverage as imputed income
  • The ability of affected employers and employees to seek refunds of federal income or payroll taxes

“The court’s rejection of DOMA freed employers from numerous financial and administrative burdens, but created innumerable other questions that require prompt answers,” Klein says. “We urge the federal agencies to issue guidance as soon as possible.”
The court’s DOMA ruling goes into effect Monday.

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