NY Comptroller Urges Obama to Equalize Marriage for Fed Agencies

New standard would require agencies to recognize all valid marriages regardless of locale

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli released a letter to President Barack Obama calling on him, in light of the recent Supreme Court decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, to direct all federal agencies under his control to adopt a marriage “Place of Celebration” standard.  This would require federal agencies and programs to recognize all valid same-sex marriages, regardless of the current residence of the same-sex spouses.

“All federal agencies should administer programs and interpret their laws in a manner that treats same-sex spouses the same as any other spouse, regardless of where they live,”DiNapoli said last Friday. “A directive from President Obama that legally-performed marriages must be recognized for federal purposes in all 50 states will provide certainty and uniformity in interpreting federal laws.”

As trustee of New York’s $160.4 billion Common Retirement Fund and a shareholder in America’s largest corporations, DiNapoli has advocated for companies to adopt comprehensive equal-employment opportunity policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. These discriminatory policies stand in the way of recruitment and retention of the best and the brightest employees, impairing a company’s ability to generate optimal returns over time.

Unequal treatment of spouses in corporate employee benefit plans is an egregious example of this discrimination. Some companies have asserted that discrimination was allowed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which mandates the provision of certain spousal protections in employee benefit plans, coupled with the refusal to recognize same-sex spouses and marriages contained in Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Now that Section 3 of DOMA has been found to be unconstitutional it is important that a message be sent that “spouse” includes “same-sex spouse,” DiNapoli said. He added that it is equally important that the benefits of marriage not be limited by residence, providing uniformity in the administration and receipt of employee benefits.

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