U.S. Supreme Court to Review Constitutionality of State Bans Prohibiting—or Barring Recognition of—Same-Sex Marriage

In early November 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit broke ranks with other circuit courts and upheld bans on same-sex marriage or recognition of same-sex marriages in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. On Friday, January 16, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court granted review of one petition from each of those states. The cases are consolidated and the order granting writs of certiorari limits the issues before the Court to the following:

  1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
  2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

The Court’s briefing schedule indicates oral argument will be held in April 2015 and a decision will likely be issued at the close of the Court’s term in June 2015.

On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court held in U.S. v. Windsor that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, was unconstitutional. Accordingly, the federal government could no longer deny benefits to same-sex couples that were legally married in states that allow such unions. Although the decision in Windsor did not address the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans, the issue has been the source of litigation in every state. Currently, 36 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriages, either under court rulings or state laws. In the other 14 states, they are prohibited, but those bans are all under legal challenge. U.S. Supreme Court review became more likely when a circuit split was created by the recent decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Over 1,000 federal laws, rules, and regulations are impacted by marital status including employee benefits such as health care, retirement, and family leave. MSEC will continue to monitor this case and report on its impact on employers.