SCOTUS Ruling on Marriage Equality Impacts Your Rights as an Employee


Marriage Equality Means Equal Rights for LGBTQ Employees

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling legalizing same-sex marriage was both historic and monumental. However, it was only the first step on the much higher set of stairs we must climb to ensure workplace fairness to all groups.  The struggle will now be to ensure all federal workplace and employment discrimination protections are observed. Given that it was not until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality from the list of mental disorders, LGBTQ citizens continue to be challenged by stale viewpoints and lingering prejudices.  There are those in this country who cling to discriminatory attitudes towards those they feel do not conform to their personal belief systems.  Many of these people will continue to flout the law.

So what has changed?

The Obergefell ruling is an enormous first step. It will allow married couples better clarity when it comes to the administration of employee benefits. The recognition of same-sex marriage across the country will allow LGBTQ couples to at last participate fully in the myriad of protections and advantages granted to opposite-sex couples for decades.

Among the changes:

Leave Rights  

  • FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) rights must be recognized for same sex couples and their families.

Discrimination based on Marital Status

  • In California, marital status discrimination is protected, thus recognition of same-sex marriages will confer the same protections to those couples. Note: in states where there are laws preventing discrimination based on marital status but there are not laws preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation (e.g., Alaska, Florida, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Virginia), gay and lesbian married employees may now be protected under the former anti-discrimination laws even if they are not protected under the latter.

Employee Benefits

  • Obergefell provides for nationally recognized and uniform treatment of marriages. It allows companies to adjust benefit plans under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code, which provides  tax benefits to same-sex couples that were not provided before. It augments the 2013 SCOTUS ruling in United States v. Windsor, which mandated that same sex marriages were to be recognized for federal tax purposes. With the decision in Obergefell, states must now follow suit, and recognize same-sex spouses for tax purposes as well.  Equal tax treatment for all.


  •  In addition, employers’ state insurance plans should now begin to offer same-sex spouses the same coverage and benefits offered to opposite-sex couples.

The full effect of Obergefell’s impact will not immediately be known, as lifting the ban on the disparate treatment of the LGBTQ community with respect to marriage will certainly reveal related issues that are currently in need of redress.

Marriage equality will mean employee rights for LGBTQ workers


The Status of ENDA

There is still no federal law that consistently protects LGBTQ individuals from employment discrimination. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (“ENDA”) was introduced in Congress in 2013.  ENDA is legislation proposed by the United States Congress that would prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity for employers with more than 15 employees. The bill is closely modeled on existing civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Although President Obama has signed an executive order essentially enforcing ENDA for all federal contractors, ENDA remains in Congressional limbo. Though a majority of Republicans join their Democrat counterparts in support of this legislation, there is still a large number of Republicans who do not support the legislation on primarily “religious” grounds. Their numbers have been sufficient to prevent the bill from being introduced in Congress. But that is another step to climb, on another day. Hopefully a day in the near future.


Meanwhile, the country has taken a huge step toward full equality. While it is true that until ENDA can be passed by Congress, the LGBTQ community will continue to suffer workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sexual expression nationally, there is discrimination protection here in California. The state currently prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

What do you do if you find yourself being harassed and/or discriminated against because you are LGBTQ? No matter what your sexual orientation or gender identity may be, know you are protected in the Golden State.  Do not endure unlawful employment conditions.  Give us a call instead, and let us fight for you.

Lazear Mack, LLP
Employment Law Attorneys
436 14th Street, Suite 1117
Oakland, CA


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