Effects of Same Sex Marriages and Gender Issues on Employment Practices

Author: Stephen Hans

In July 2011, New York passed the Marriage in Equality Act which recognizes same sex marriages under New York law and requires treating same sex couples equally as opposite-sex married couples, even if legally married in a state other than New York.

When President Obama recently announced his stance on same sex marriage during his political campaigning for the 2012 presidential election, it opened the door to national debate. The idea of recognizing same sex marriages nationwide moved into the media spotlight. Most aspects of marriage are legislated at the state and not federal level. However, under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), federal law defines marriage for federal tax purposes and the act limits marriage to opposite-sex couples.

What does the Marriage in Equality Act mean for New York employers?

For state income tax and benefits purposes, same sex couples also receive equal treatment as opposite-sex married couples. Employers must adjust benefit plans that previously had domestic partnership designations and change the designations to spouse. Health insurance is significantly affected by the change in marital status.

Federal income tax remains unaffected as per DOMA. In fact the IRS website  clarifies how domestic partners and same-sex spouses should report taxes.

On another note, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) is a NY bill that would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression. In practice, people who are gay or transgender have not experienced the same civil rights protections as other protected classes. Their discrimination and harassment is prevalent in employment, housing, and public accommodations. GENDA has been passed by the New York Assembly five times and currently sits with the Rules Committee. Governor Cuomo supports the bill, and it remains to be seen whether it will pass in the Senate. The Senate’s current focus is on reducing business taxes and creating more new jobs in the private sector.

Protecting business interests

New York’s small business employers must guard against taking any actions that could be construed as discrimination against protected classes. For any business to succeed, it needs to stay apprised of employment law changes and have business practices in place that limit liability. Periodically consulting a New York employment Defense lawyer  helps you to safeguard your business and avoid lawsuits.


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