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José J. Santiago

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Carlos A. Padilla

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Antonio L. García

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Edgardo Barreto

787-759-3170

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US SUPREME COURT RULES THE DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE ACT UNCONSTITUTIONAL

In a decision with wide-ranging implications, on June 26, 2013 the Supreme Court found Section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA") unconstitutional, US v. Windsor. Section 3 of DOMA provided that in determining the meaning of any federal law or regulation the word 'marriage' meant only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' referred only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife. Section 2 of DOMA provides that no State, territory, or possession of the United States will be required to recognize same sex marriage under the laws of another State, territory or possession. This Section is not affected by the Windsor decision, but it also faces legal challenges.

 

The plaintiff, Edith Windsor was married in Toronto to Thea Spyer. The marriage was recognized by the State of New York where they resided. However, when Spyer died, the Internal Revenue Service denied Windsor use of a spousal estate tax exception on the ground that, under DOMA, the federal government did not recognize same-sex marriages for the purpose of federal benefits. Windsor challenged this determination and sought a refund of the federal estate tax alleging that DOMA's Section 3 is unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Fifth Amendment.

 

The Supreme Court held that DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment. The Court pointed out that by history and tradition the definition and regulation of marriage has been left within the authority and realm of the separate States. In this case, the State of New York had chosen to recognize same-sex marriages. The Court held that by seeking to injure the very class New York seeks to protect (married same-sex couples), DOMA violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government.

 

The potential impact of this decision is enormous. There are numerous federal laws in which benefits, rights, and privileges are contingent on marital status or in which marital status is a factor. From an employment point of view, these are some of the benefits that could be affected:

• Welfare benefits plans, including group health plans

• Retirement plans (ERISA)

• Benefits under the COBRA Act (continuation of health care coverage)

• Family and Medical Leave Act benefits

• Benefits under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)

• Military and Veteran Benefits.

 

Also, from a business immigration standpoint, legally married same-sex spouses of aliens with nonimmigrant work visas and of aliens who seek employment-based permanent residence will most likely benefit from changes brought up by this decision.

The precise impact on Puerto Rico employers can not be determined until the various federal regulatory authorities issue revised guidance or until affected federal statutes are amended. We will keep you informed of any further developments.

 

The Labor Law Group at Fiddler González & Rodríguez, P.S.C., will issue the FGR LABOR WATCH with information of legal issues and developments in areas of interest to our friends and clients. If you know anyone who would like to receive the FGR LABOR WATCH, please feel free to forward this newsletter. For more information about any matter raised in this Labor Watch, please contact your usual FGR labor lawyer or José A. Silva Cofresí at jsilva@fgrlaw.com.

©2014 FIDDLER GONZÁLEZ & RODRÍGUEZ, P.S.C. Permission is granted to view, store, print, copy or distribute the content of this newsletter for noncommercial or personal use, provided you do not alter it and you give us proper credit. The content of this newsletter is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice or advertising. In addition, the above discussion has been provided in general terms and, therefore, should not be relied upon as legal advice applicable to a specific set of facts and circumstances. Before taking legal action, consult a lawyer you trust. Although we will try to be accurate, you cannot rely on its applicability to your specific problem without consulting your lawyer. Fiddler González & Rodríguez, P.S.C. and the members of the Labor Law Group assume no responsibility to inform you of additional changes in law or any other legal issues related to matters addressed in this email of which we may become aware after the date hereof. This newsletter is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between you and our firm or any of our attorneys. If we are not already representing you, be mindful that your email communications to any of our lawyers will not be treated as privileged or confidential until you ask us to represent you, we first conduct a conflict of interest search, we agree to represent you and you sign an engagement letter from the law firm.

***IRS CIRCULAR 230 DISCLOSURE: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the Internal Revenue Service, we inform you that any United States federal tax advice in this communication (including any attachments) is not intended or written by Fiddler González & Rodríguez, P.S.C. to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding any penalties under the Internal Revenue Code, or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein. **

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