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Questions about same-sex benefits after Obergefell case

With the Supreme Court's landmark June 2015 ruling in the Obergefell case, same-sex couples in Oklahoma and throughout the country now enjoy the same rights to marry as do heterosexual couples. Questions still remain about same-sex spouses being able to access benefits through their spouse's medical insurance plans, however.

The questions involve whether the decision will be applied retroactively as well as to whether it will be applied within the context of employer-provided self-insured plans. Two cases in which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found probable cause that discrimination had occurred are currently wending their way through the federal court system.

In one case, a woman had received repeated denials to add her same-sex spouse to her medical insurance through her work at Walmart. Her spouse had amassed substantial medical bills prior to Walmart's reversing its policy to allow same-sex spousal access to employee insurance plans, but the woman is suing to have the decision applied retroactively to cover the unpaid bills that had accrued. The other case involves an employee of a senior living center whose application to add her same-sex spouse to her health plan was turned down. It is also unclear whether employer-sponsored self-insurance plans will be required to provide coverage to same-sex spouses.

The Obergefell decision marked a historic change for same-sex couples. In addition to being able to marry, couples may now be able to enjoy many of the benefits previously enjoyed only by those who are in heterosexual marriages. It is still unclear how the decision will affect access to benefits, however. A person in a same-sex marriage who is wishing to divorce may need to consult with a family law attorney regarding such things as Social Security planning and the right to access other types of benefits from the spouse's retirement plans.

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