DOMA Decision Prompts Administrative Changes

When the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional this past June, it signaled the beginning of a period of change necessary in order to adapt to the modified interpretations. With guidance coming down from the Department of Labor (DOL) in September, Vantagen is prepared to begin adapting its administrative practices to the new interpretations.

Section 3 of DOMA provides that, in any Federal statute, the term “marriage” means a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and that “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife. The Supreme Court concluded that Section 3 “undermines both the public and private significance of state-sanctioned same sex marriages” and found that “no legal purpose” overcomes Section 3’s “purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect.”

Via Technical Release 2013-04, the DOL issued guidance that defined the following terms relevant to employee benefits administration:


Spouse– This term refers to any individuals who are lawfully married under any state law, including individuals married to a person of the same sex who were married in a state that recognizes such marriages, but who are domiciled in a state that does not recognize such marriages.

Marriage – This term includes a same-sex marriage that is legally recognized as a marriage under any state law.

State – This term means any state of the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, Wake Island, the Northern Mariana Islands, any other territory or possession of the United States, and any foreign jurisdiction having the legal authority to sanction marriages.

The DOL also clarified, however, that the terms “spouse” and “marriage” do not include individuals in a formal relationship recognized by a state that is not denominated a marriage under state law, such as a domestic partnership or a civil union, regardless of whether the individuals who are in these relationships have the same rights and responsibilities as those individuals who are married under state law. This applies to individuals who are in these relationships with an individual of the opposite sex or same sex.


Next Steps:
The administrative changes being made by Vantagen to accommodate the Supreme Court decision and subsequent DOL guidance include the following:

For enrollment processing, Vantagen will accept same sex gender matches as a standard condition of enrollment. For Qualifying Life Event and dependent verification processing (when applicable), Vantagen will begin accepting marriage and divorce documentation issued by the applicable states/state courts that reflect a same sex spousal relationship as verifiable for enrollment and disenrollment purposes.

For employers that offer online enrollment, the Online Benefits Center will be reconfigured to allow same sex gender matches (a previously disallowed match criteria). This change is scheduled to be placed into production on October 23rd.

For employers that post plan documents within the Online Benefits Center library, Vantagen will repost any documents that change as a result of this decision (e.g. plan documents and amendments that reflect updated spousal definitions).

When applicable, descriptors of “spouse” will be changed so they apply universally.  For employers that extend coverage to domestic partners, current processes will continue to be followed when a relationship cannot be verified by marriage. This includes allowing coverage – subject to the related imputed income factors – when the relationship is attested to via affidavit and other supporting documentation.

For employers that do not extend coverage to domestic partners, current processes will continue to be followed when a relationship cannot be verified by marriage. This includes not enrolling same or opposite sex dependents that cannot be verified as a spouse.

Vantagen will work with employers to modify existing benefits communications to reflect this change (e.g. definitions of dependent eligibility included in benefit guides). We anticipate that some clients will also want to highlight this change as part of upcoming annual enrollment communications.

In addition to the administrative aspects outlined by Vantagen, employers will also want to give the impact of the DOMA decision wider consideration in the areas of payroll and taxation.