DOMA rejection triggers changes and opportunity for employers

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On June 26, 2013, the US Supreme Court held in US v. Windsor that Section 3 of the US Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. Section 3 defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman for purposes of federal law. Under DOMA, married same-sex couples and their families were not eligible for certain tax benefits and protections (collectively, qualified benefits) that were available to married couples of the opposite sex. For example, same-sex couples could not exclude the value of employer-paid health care coverage, certain tuition benefits or group-term life insurance premiums from their gross income and wages, yet amounts were excludible from the wages of married couples of the opposite sex. As a result, the imputed value of these and other qualified benefits were subject to social security and Medicare taxes (FICA) and income taxes. However, in light of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision, these qualified benefits provided to same-sex spouses may now be excluded from taxable wages and no longer subject to federal income and FICA taxes if the marriage is legally recognized under state law. As a result, employers, for themselves and the affected employees, should now be able to seek tax refunds for amounts previously withheld on qualified benefits provided to same-sex spouses.

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