Amended Family & Medical Leave Act a Great Step Forward

New rule will ensure all eligible workers in legal same-sex marriages receive benefits under the FMLA.

Under the newly amended Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible workers in legal same-sex marriages will soon be eligible for benefits even if they live in a state that does not recognize their union, the Labor Department announced Monday. Beginning in March, these workers will be able to take federal job-protected family and medical leave to care for their spouse or family member, no matter where they live.

This rule change from the Labor Department was not unexpected. In June, one year after the Supreme Court's famous 2013 decision against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the department announced it was preparing to change the regulation to ensure married same-sex couples had access to the FMLA regardless of where they lived. This change will impact nearly 118,000 individuals with same-sex spouses, as estimated by Gary J. Gates, PhD, Research Director at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. 

Currently, about 260,000 people are in same-sex unions in this country, with 77% of them employed and about 59% of those employed eligible for benefits under the FMLA. According to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, "The basic promise of the FMLA is that no one should have to choose between the job and income they need, and caring for a loved one. With our action today, we extend that promise so that no matter who you love, you will receive the same rights and protections as everyone else. All eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages, regardless of where they live, can now deal with a serious medical and family situation like all families – without the threat of job loss.”

The final rule change to the Family & Medical Leave Act is set for publication on Wednesday and will take effect March 27.

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