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Federal benefits won’t extend to domestic partners under DOMA ruling

The Obama administration will not extend federal-worker benefits to domestic partners under the Supreme Court ruling that overturned part of the Defense of Marriage Act, meaning the government will treat civil unions differently than legal same-sex marriages.

The Office of Personnel Management made that announcement in a series of memos to federal benefits administrators and insurance carriers, saying couples who are not legally married “will remain ineligible for most federal benefits programs.” However, any existing benefits provided to domestic partners will remain intact, OPM said.

The recent Supreme Court decision overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which had prohibited the government from recognizing same-sex marriage for purposes of federal benefits programs. The 1996 law prevented same-sex spouses of federal workers from receiving coverage through their partners’ plans.

The Obama administration responded to the Supreme Court ruling by making health, vision and dental benefits available to all same-sex spouses and children of legally married federal employees. In a memo on Wednesday, OPM said those guidelines will apply to all federal workers, regardless of whether they live in states that have banned same-sex marriage — Virginia, Ohio and Mississippi, for example.

That means same sex couples living anywhere in the U.S. will qualify for federal-employee benefits as long as they hold marriage licenses from any of the 13 states that recognize same-sex marriage, as well as from the District of Columbia, which has also legalized such unions.

Questions remain about how the administration will treat same-sex couples and domestic partners outside the federal workforce, including with Social Security, tax and veterans’ benefits. The agencies that handle those programs have not issued guidance.

OPM has given legally married same-sex couples until Aug. 26 to apply for federal-employee benefits and two years to change their status for retirement benefits.

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