As of March 27, “spouse” under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) will include same-sex spouses for any legally recognized marriages based on the laws of the state of celebration. On February 25, as expected, the Department of Labor (DOL) published its final rules on the definition of spouse under the FMLA in light of the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision. Based on this final rule, the definition of spouse will be based upon the law of the jurisdiction where the marriage was entered into (place of celebration) rather than based on the law of the state of the employee’s residence (or work) “to ensure that all legally married couples, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, will have consistent federal family leave rights regardless of where they live.”
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When the Supreme Court decided United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013), finding Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional for precluding recognition of same-sex marriage under federal law, the Court did not address the extent to which the decision would apply retroactively.  More federal guidance may emerge, however, with Schuett v. FedEx, No. 15-cv-189 (N.D. Cal. 2015), the outcome of which could potentially impact numerous employers who relied on DOMA to deny employee or spousal benefits.
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The Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) ruling will impact the “spouse” definition in the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) (among other extensive impacts in the employment law and employment benefits industry). Employers can expect the Department of Labor to issue, relatively soon, some guidance on the definition of spouse in light of the DOMA ruling.

It is anticipated that the definition of spouse will look to the state of celebration – that is, the state where the same-sex union was performed, or what state issued the license, regardless of the state of residence of the couple. But, until the guidance is issued, what should an employer do “in the meantime?”
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