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Same-sex spousal benefits may be retroactive

A Pennsylvania court ruled that an individual's same-sex common law marriage dating from 2001 was legal for retroactive purposes of allowing the surviving spouse various death benefits even though the marriage had commenced prior to its legal recognition in the state. Since the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage throughout the United States, several other people are seeking retroactive recognition of their marriages.

One is the case of a woman who was denied the opportunity to add her same-sex spouse to her health plan at WalMart. Eventually, in response to another Supreme Court ruling, WalMart allowed her to add the spouse, but they already had high medical bills. The woman is now attempting to form a class-action suit and is challenging the earlier denials.

The second woman faced a similar denial from her employer. She and her employer have gone into arbitration. In both cases, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said there was probable cause that the individuals had faced gender-based discrimination. It is not yet clear what the legal status will be for employers that sponsor self-insured health plans. While discrimination based on sexual orientation is not specifically prohibited for these types of plans, the EEOC may rule that it is also a case of gender discrimination.

Individuals in same-sex relationships may be concerned not only about issues around health care but around other benefits, child custody and guardianship of children. Even though same-sex marriage is now legal, people may still be concerned about family members or others raising legal challenges to their relationships. People who have been denied health care or other benefits, faced struggles in being recognized as a child's legal parent or have dealt with any other legal issues regarding their same-sex relationship may wish to speak with an attorney about their options for protecting themselves and their family.

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