Workers in legal, same-sex marriages, regardless of where they live, will now have the same rights as those in opposite-sex marriages to federal job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for a spouse with a serious health condition.
The U.S. Labor Department announced a rule change to the FMLA on Feb. 23 in keeping with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor. That ruling struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act provision that interpreted “marriage” and “spouse” to be limited to opposite-sex marriage for the purposes of federal law.
“The basic promise of the FMLA is that no one should have to choose between the job and income they need and caring for a loved one,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez in announcing the rule change. “With our action today, we extend that promise so that no matter who you love, you will receive the same rights and protections as everyone else. All eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages, regardless of where they live, can now deal with a serious medical and family situation like all families — without the threat of job loss.”
Enacted in 1993, the FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. Employees are, for example, entitled to take FMLA leave to care for a spouse who has a serious health condition. Millions of workers and their families have benefited since the FMLA’s provisions became effective and even more American families will benefit as a result of the rule.
The rule change updates the FMLA regulatory definition of “spouse” so that an eligible employee in a legal same-sex marriage will be able to take FMLA leave for his or her spouse regardless of the state in which the employee resides. Previously, the regulatory definition of “spouse” did not include same-sex spouses if an employee resided in a state that did not recognize the employee’s same-sex marriage. Under the new rule, eligibility for federal FMLA protections is based on the law of the place where the marriage was entered into. This “place of celebration” provision allows all legally married couples, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, to have consistent federal family leave rights regardless of whether the state in which they currently reside recognizes such marriages.
“No legally married same-sex couple should be denied their federal family leave rights simply because they happen to live in a state that disrespects their marriage,” said HRC government affairs director David Stacy. “Until the Supreme Court settles the issue of full nationwide marriage equality this summer, fairness and equality — and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Windsor case — demanded this important change. We applaud the Obama Administration for continuing to ensure all legally married couples have access to the same federal rights, protections and privileges that come with marriage wherever possible.”