The Girl in HR Explains It — What is DOMA and What Does the Reversal Mean

Maybe you’ve heard some of the talk about DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and not exactly sure what it is or what it means in relationship to your company. I had a lot of people asking questions about it this weekend so I thought that I’d do a quick recap. As a disclaimer, I know that topics like DOMA can be a bit controversial. This is not meant to discuss any personal beliefs (I’m all about opinions, but  let’s keep it friendly), rather let’s lay out the facts and what’s important for you to know as an HR person for your company and your employees.

What Is It?

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a US  federal law that says that individual states to can refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed under the laws of other states. Until the reversal, DOMA, basically had prevented same-sex married couples from being recognized as “spouses” for purposes of federal laws, or receiving federal marriage benefits.

What Happened?

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday by a 5-4 vote that DOMA was unconstitutional. “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

What Does It Mean?

In simplest terms the reversal of DOMA means that same-sex couples are now eligible for spousal benefits that they had been denied in the past. Its estimated that “1,138 federal benefits provided on the basis of marital status. All of those benefits will now be available to same-sex married couples who reside in the 12 states where same-sex marriage is legal.”   What benefits are we talking about? Not just the opportunity for healthcare benefits offered to opposite- sex couples, but also things such as immigration, FMLA (to take care a spouse or family member) and numerous tax benefits.

Here is a quick video that discusses DOMA and the recent reversal in a bit more detail

What Does This Mean To You As An HR Pro?

  • This is on the mind of some of your employees and some of your leaders, so do the research and be able to talk intelligently about it.
  • Understand the impacts to your current benefit programs — do you need to do some communication or sessions to help people with their benefit selections if they elect to make some changes to their benefits — make yourself (or your team) available to answer questions and to help make any needed changes in your systems or with providers.
  • Understand what your policies look like — do you need to update or review them — do you already have a policy in place for domestic partners of same or opposite sex? — do you need to change the wording of your policies?
  • Talk about it with your employees and leaders — do you have a GLBTA ERG (whoa that’s an acro — Gay, Lesbian, Bi Sexual, Transgendered, and Allies Employee Resource Group)?  If so chat with them and partner with them.

Arm yourself with the knowledge and do the research — know your stuff and be a guide — its your responsibility as an HR pro.  I’m just here to help get ya started.

Making the HR connection, yours, the Girl in HR!

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