Iowa, Vermont And Maine Now Permit Same-Gender Marriage, And The New Hampshire Legislature Has Approved A Bill To Do The Same
In Iowa, same-gender marriage became legal on April 24, 2009. In Vermont and Maine, laws permitting same-gender marriage are set to become effective in September. And in New Hampshire, the legislature has approved a bill to legalize same-gender marriage in the Granite State.
In Iowa, this development resulted from a unanimous ruling of the Iowa Supreme Court that Iowa’s same-gender marriage ban violated the state constitution. The ban had been contained in a statute limiting marriage to between a man and a woman. As a result of this decision, Iowa joined Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont as the only states to permit same-gender marriage (with Maine soon to follow). Iowa is the first mid-Western state to allow same-gender couples to marry.
In Vermont, the legislature voted to override a veto by Governor Jim Douglas of legislation legalizing same-gender marriage, making Vermont the first state to allow same-gender marriage by legislative vote. This new law is set to become effective on September 1, 2009. Vermont’s legislature has been a pioneer regarding this issue. In 2000, the Vermont legislature created the “civil union,” a legal status that conferred on same-gender couples the same basic rights and obligations that applied to traditional marriages, except for the right to actually marry.
In Maine, the legislature followed Vermont’s lead, passing a bill authorizing marriage between any two people, rather than between one man and one woman, as previously provided by state law. Governor John Baldacci, who had publicly opposed same-gender marriage in the past, signed the bill into law on May 6, 2009. The Maine law is set to become effective in mid-September.
In New Hampshire, the legislature voted to legalize same-gender marriage on May 6, 2009, the same day that the Maine governor signed his state’s corresponding bill into law. The New Hampshire bill is now before Governor John Lynch, who may sign it into law, let it become law without his signature, or veto it.
These developments have significant ramifications for employers, especially those with employees in multiple states. Generally speaking, because federal law does not recognize same-gender marriages, employees who enter into them in states that permit them become entitled to state spousal benefits but not federal spousal benefits. This poses complex challenges for employers. We provided a detailed discussion of this topic in our March 24, 2009 e-alert regarding similar developments in California and Connecticut. (A copy is available on our website, or by contacting Kathie Duffy at (978) 623-0900.)
We advise employers, especially multi-state employers, to monitor such developments regularly and to address them promptly and carefully. This should help to ensure compliance with this complex and dynamic area of the law and to avoid discrimination claims.
Please contact us if you have questions about the developments in Iowa, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire, or if you need assistance in complying with the same-gender benefits laws in these or other states.