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Federal benefits not available to all married same-sex couples

There has been a great deal of change lately here in America when it comes to how the law treats same-sex couples. Several states have legalized same-sex marriages and have made other family law mechanisms that have traditionally only been available to opposite-sex couples now available to same-sex couples. Also, many same-sex couples are now able to receive federal benefits for spouses.

However, same-sex couples are still quite a ways from having complete equal legal footing as opposite-sex couples. Many states, including Texas, still have same-sex marriage bans on the books. Same-sex couples from such states can face many complications regarding family law matters. Family law attorneys can be of significant help to same-sex couples when it comes to finding ways to address such complications.

Also, while federal benefits have opened up quite a bit to same-sex couples, there are still certain married same-sex couples that find themselves shut out from such benefits.

For example, under current rules, the ability of a member of a married same-sex couple to receive Family Medical Leave Act leave rights for non-federal employees, Social Security spousal benefits and certain veteran-related spousal benefits is dependent on the laws of the state where they live. Currently, when it comes to FMLA leave rights for non-federal employees and Social Security spousal benefits, the member of a same-sex couple is generally only entitled to such benefits if the state they reside in legally recognizes their marriage (in the case of Social Security benefits, a person is also entitled to such benefits if they fall under the state's spousal inheritance laws). For certain veteran-related spousal benefits, under current rules, the marriage of an individual in a same-sex couple has to have been legally recognized in the state they lived in when the benefits claim was made or when the marriage occurred for them to receive such benefits.

When it comes to FMLA leave rights for non-federal employees, it appears that change when it comes to this restriction is right around the corner. An announcement was recently made by the U.S. Department of Labor that it plans to extend such leave rights to all same-sex couples who have gotten married, no matter what legal stance the state they live in takes on their marriage. This planned change has to make it through the rule-making process in order to take effect.

Source: The New York Times, "A Guide to Changes in Federal Benefits for Same-Sex Couples," Tara Siegel Bernard, July 2, 2014

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