Though Texas has not recognized same-sex marriages, same-sex couples considered legally married in other states do have certain rights under federal employment statutes. This would include coverage for spouses under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act.
The Department of Labor on Wednesday, September 17th, ruled that ERISA applies anyplace in the United States for same-sex couples. A couple from Texas can thus be married in another state and still expect ERISA protections for both spouses while at least one of them works in Texas.
ERISA was made law in an effort by the federal government to regulate employee pension plans. It must be kept in mind that pension plans pertain to more than just the worker. Pension plans also are there to benefit the surviving spouses who may have sacrificed their career to take care of the family.
Part of the DOL’s reasoning was the complexity of having one set of rules for same-sex couples and another set of rules for all other legally married couples. However, the department also seemed concerned about issues of discrimination in that equality for all American families was emphasized.
Same-sex couples have already been held eligible for other federal benefits as well. The Family and Medical Leave Act also apply to married same-sex couples. This allows employees to take leave to care for a spouse in the event of a medical emergency.
Federal regulations concerning employee pensions and rights are numerous and sometimes come into conflict with existing state regulations. Any questions concerning these regulations would best be addressed by attorneys who have made a living helping out workers with employment concerns.
Source: BenefitsPro.com, “Same-sex spouses covered by ERISA, regardless of residence,” Allen Greenberg, Sep. 18, 2013