Times are changing and changing fast. Greta Cowart, a shareholder at Winstead in Dallas, who advises about employee benefits, knows that these days. In a ruling issued Aug. 29, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service states “All Legal Same-Sex Marriages Will Be Recognized for Federal Tax Purposes.”
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, the tax agency had decided for the 2013 tax year, same-sex spouses who are legally married -- even if they live in a state like Texas that doesn’t allow for same-sex marriages -- must file as “married filing jointly” or individually as “married filing separately.” Cowart says employers in less than three weeks -- by a Sept. 16 deadline, according to the guidance given by the agency -- must be able to identify and recognize for retirement plans that qualify for tax deferrals all spouses of employees, including same-sex spouses if the employee was married in a state where it was lawful for same-sex partners to do so, even if that same-sex couple now lives in a state, like Texas, that doesn’t recognize gay marriages.
“It’s not necessarily going to be easy to navigate,” says Cowart.
Other federal agencies, including the Social Security Administration and the Department of Labor, have responded to the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling differently than the tax agency, she says. The SSA has said when same-sex spouses apply for benefits, their marriages will be recognized if the state where the couple resides at the time recognizes their marriage. The DOL has said for the purposes of the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers must offer same-sex spouses benefits if the employee resides in a state that recognizes the same-sex marriage.
Cowart says although the federal agencies are announcing distinct new rules at an accelerated pace, she has prepared her clients for the changes.
“I told them we’d be looking for these,” she says.