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Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage affects workplace benefits

Posted at 5:36 PM, Jun 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-29 17:36:58-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – It may still be an uphill battle after the Supreme Court’s momentous ruling to legalize same-sex marriage. The decision raises many questions about the legal implications in the workplace for LGBT employees and their spouses.

Friday’s historic ruling inevitably leads to some large, looming questions: namely, can employers refuse health care benefits to same-sex spouses of their employees?

Nationally legalizing same-sex marriage is a relief as it is likely a burden for employers and employees alike. Attorney Jeff DeVree, who specializes in employee benefits with Varnum LLP, told FOX 17 News expect to see a head-on conflict between equal protection and religious freedom.

“The real question will be for religious organizations and businesses owned by people with strong religious convictions, will the Religious Freedom Restoration Act survive this ruling by the Supreme Court,” said DeVree.

DeVree said that any employers who attempt to deny benefits to employees’ same-sex spouses would only have the defense of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and their First Amendment right to religious freedom.

“State law now has to permit same-sex couples to be married; that doesn’t make same-sex marriage a protected classification under employment discrimination laws,” said DeVree.

As it stands, Michigan’s Elliot-Larson Civil Rights Act does not protect same-sex employees from employer discrimination. Although, there are a number of Michigan municipalities that have recently passed ordinances protecting the LGBT community.

Attorney Norbert Kugele, who also specializes in employee benefits with Warner Norcross & Judd LLP, told FOX 17 News that employers should consider the potential impact of local laws before attempting to deny any employee benefits.

With the Supreme Court sharply divided on its same-sex marriage ruling, some like DeVree believe it was a preview to what lies ahead, which may be the contest of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the high court.

Another issue too is that under the Affordable Care Act, employers are not required to offer health care coverage to spouses; employers must only insure employees and dependent children.