WASHINGTON — Same-sex couples in a civil union will not be eligible for most federal benefits now available to married, same-sex couples.
In a series of memos released last week, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced that same-sex or other couples who are not legally married “will remain ineligible for most federal benefits programs,” although any existing benefits provided to domestic partners “will remain intact.”
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The action by OPM follows the June 26 decision by the Supreme Court which ruled Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. That section of DOMA prohibited the government from recognizing same-sex marriage for purposes of federal benefits programs.
In a memo to federal benefits administrators, John O’Brien, OMP’s Director for Healthcare and Insurance, outlined changes in the status of federal benefits as a result of the DOMA ruling, noting that guidelines will apply to all federal workers, regardless of whether they live in states that have banned same-sex marriage.
That means same sex couples living anywhere in the U.S. will qualify for federal-employee benefits as long as they hold marriage licenses from any of the 13 states or the District of Columbia, where same-sex marriage is legal.
The Supreme Court ruling and announcement by OPM invalidate the often used argument by lawmakers opposed to same-sex marriage that civil unions offer the same benefits as marriage, without the title.
Currently, Colorado, Illinois, Hawaii, and New Jersey allow same-sex civil unions.
OPM acknowledged Tuesday that treatment for benefits of same-sex couples and domestic partners outside the federal workforce, including with Social Security, tax and veterans’ benefits have not yet been established.
OPM has given legally married same-sex couples until August 26 to apply for federal-employee benefits and two years to change their status for retirement benefits.