In recent years the same-sex marriage debate has heated up throughout the entire country. In Connecticut the state legislature recognized the right for same sex couples to marry and receive the same employment benefits as their heterosexual counterparts. However, in the case of a Connecticut nursing home employee, receiving these rights from her employer has become a legal issue illustrating the unique problems that same-sex couples face, even after their marriage has been sanctioned by their state.
Considine v. Brookdale
Kerry Considine, is a Connecticut citizen employed by Brookdale Senior Living, a company with over 550 assisted living communities throughout the United States. Brookdale denied Considine’s request that her wife receive benefits under Brookdale’s employee benefits program. Following this denial, Considine filed a complaint earlier this year with the federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Brookdale has not officially gone on the record regarding their stance on same sex marriage. However, it is important to note that Brookdale operates out of Tennessee, a state that does not recognize same sex marriages.
The Issues Present in Considine v. Brookdale
The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities has stated that, in general, companies that operate in Connecticut are unable to withhold benefits based on the sexual orientation of an employee. However, the issue is that many companies operate on a national scale, including in states that do not allow same sex marriages. As a result, these companies believe that they can deny same-sex couples the same benefits that are received by heterosexual couples. In the past these companies pointed to the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) to support their claims.
However, in the landmark 2013 the case U.S. v. Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down certain parts of DOMA. Most notably, the court held that the federal government must recognize couples as married for federal purposes who were married legally in their own state. In other words, following Windsor, a same-sex couple who was legally married in Connecticut is guaranteed to receive the same federal benefits as their opposite-sex counterparts.
Importantly, the entire DOMA law was not struck down in the Windsor case. In particular, there remains confusion about requirements by one state to recognize marriage rights of couples who are married elsewhere and move into a state that does not recognize such marriages.
The rules are even more complex when it comes to obligations upon private companies. A current provision in DOMA can be interpreted as supporting a company’s decision to deny benefits to same-sex spouses. This provision provides that states are not required to recognize same-sex unions granted by other states. The legal issues in Considine are complicated by this DOMA provision, and minimum case law exists to provide a legal standpoint.
If you are looking to learn more about the legal rights required for same-sex couples in Connecticut, then you need to contact the family law attorneys at Greenberg & Krieger LLP in Fairfield County, Connecticut for all of the answers to your family law related issues.