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June 20, 2014

Policy Update: FMLA Benefits Extended to Same Sex Spouses

Family illness can cause tremendous stress for caretakers, both physically and emotionally. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 addresses this issue directly by entitling eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.

Millions of Americans have benefited from these provisions, but for many LGBT workers these benefits have historically been inaccessible as the government has not recognized their relationships. This challenge is exacerbated for older LGBT adults, who face striking health disparities: increased risk for certain cancers, a greater likelihood of delaying medical care, and higher rates of chronic mental and physical health conditions, including HIV/AIDS.

Given these historic challenges, today’s announcement by the U.S. Secretary of Labor marks a tremendous victory for LGBT older adults.

The announcement from Secretary Thomas E. Perez proposes a rule “extending the protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act to all eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages regardless of where they live.”

This means that same sex spouses married in any state would have access to the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts—regardless of where they live. So a couple married in Massachusetts but living in a state which does not recognize their marriage would still be covered by the protections provided by the FMLA. 

According to today's statement from the Department of Labor:

Secretary Perez is proposing this rule in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, in which the court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act provision that interpreted “marriage” and “spouse” to be limited to opposite-sex marriage for the purposes of federal law.

The basic promise of the FMLA is that no one should have to choose between succeeding at work and being a loving family caregiver,” said Secretary Perez. “Under the proposed revisions, the FMLA will be applied to all families equally, enabling individuals in same-sex marriages to fully exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities to their families.

The extension of these benefits to same sex spouses will make a significant difference in the health and well-being of LGBT older adults across the United States—regardless of where they live.

To read the full text of the announcement, visit the Department of Labor’s web site online here

-- Posted by Kira Garcia

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