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Family and Medical Leave Act Now Covers Same-Sex Spouses


March 10, 2015
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All married couples in the United States will soon be able to enjoy the benefits of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The U.S. Department of Labor recently issued a final rule that amends the definition of spouse to include all same-sex couples.

“With our action today, we extend that promise 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,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez stated. The Family and Medical Leave Act entitles eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons, including leave to care for a spouse who has a serious health condition. The statute also includes military family leave provisions, which entitle eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for a “qualifying exigency” related to the foreign deployment of the employee’s spouse and to take up to 26 weeks of leave to care for a spouse with a serious injury or illness incurred in the line of duty. Although the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which had defined marriage as only between heterosexual couples, nearly two years ago, the federal government is still working to implement the ruling. Some regulations specified that spouses were eligible for benefits so long as the marriage was valid in the state where it was celebrated, while others depended upon whether the couple’s state of residence recognized the legality of the marriage. Under the final rule, the DOL amended the Family and Medical Leave Act’s definition of spouse to exclusively look to the law of the place in which the marriage was entered into. As the agency notes, a place of celebration rule allows all legally married couples, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, or married under common law, to have consistent federal family leave rights regardless of where they live. The Final Rule is effective on March 27, 2015.