The recent United States v. Windsor decision overturned a key aspect of the Defense of Marriage Act. The portion of the act that was overturned defined marriage as only between a man and a woman. The decision will open a wide range of federal benefits to legally married same sex couples. Social Security benefits, access to military benefits and estate tax laws will treat same sex couples equally to traditionally married couples.
If you are part of a legally married same sex couple in a state like Vermont which recognizes your marriage, this is great news.
Benefits under pension and health care cafeteria plans will change to reflect the new marriage equality. This process will take time as the individual plans must be amended to the new legal reality. If you or your same sex spouse is fortunate enough to work for one of a small number of very progressive companies, you may have already had this option.
Ms. Windsor initially brought suit because of the estate tax liability she incurred when her spouse died. This decision extends the spousal exemption and its accompanying portability to same sex couples. There is no clarification currently on when this change will take place and if it will be applied retroactively. Given the number of programs involved and the many agencies involved, this will be the case across the board and may vary considerably from program to program, even within the same agency.