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Family and medical leave now available for feds with same-sex spouses

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Federal workers with same-sex spouses can now use family and medical leave benefits from their employers, according to a memo from the Office of Personnel Management.

The change comes as a delayed response to the Supreme Court ruling that overturned a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act on June 26. Under the new guidelines, federal employees can claim the FMLA benefits retroactively if they took otherwise-qualifying leave any time after the court’s decision.

Prior to the ruling, DOMA defined marriage as a union only between a man and a woman for purposes of federal benefits. As a result, federal employees could not use family and medical leave to care for same-sex spouses with serious health conditions or a new child.

The court ruling required the government to change its definition of spouse to include all legally married same-sex partners.

The federal government has phased in new guidelines for same-sex spouses since the Supreme Court issued its ruling, which affects more than 1,000 rules and laws.

In August, the Pentagon extended its benefits to same-sex spouses of military personnel and civilian defense employees. Later that month, the Internal Revenue Service announced it would treat legal gay marriages equally for tax purposes. And the Department of Veterans Affairs said in September that it would provide veterans benefits to qualified same-sex married couples.

In contrast to all those moves, the Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma National Guards have refused to process benefits for gay couples because their state constitutions prohibit recognition of same-sex marriage. That lack of compliance with the Pentagon’s policy has set up a potential conflict that pits the states against the Obama administration and gay-rights advocates.

It is unclear whether National Guard units are required to adhere to the Pentagon directive, since they fall under the authority of both the federal government and state governors.

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