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Labor Department to extend FMLA benefits to all same-sex married couples


Married same-sex couples nationwide will soon have access to emergency leave benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

Labor Department officials on Friday issued a proposed rule that would expand the definition of “spouse” under the FMLA to include all legally married gay and lesbian couples, regardless of their state of residence.

“The basic promise of the FMLA is that no one should have to choose between succeeding at work and being a loving family caregiver,” Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a statement Friday.

Signed into law in 1993, the FMLA guarantees eligible private and public employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year in cases of serious illness or injury or to care for sick or injured family members, including spouses and their immediate relatives.

The revision proposed on Friday would expand eligibility for spousal FMLA leave benefits to include same-sex couples lawfully married in a U.S. state or territory, or a foreign country, even if the state the couple lives in does not permit or recognize same-sex marriages.

“Under the proposed revisions, the FMLA will be applied to all families equally, enabling individuals in same-sex marriages to fully exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities to their families,” Mr. Perez said.

The proposed change would be the second of two major revisions the Labor Department has made to regulations and guidance documents regarding same-sex couples’ eligibility for spousal benefits under the FMLA since June of last year, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act barring federal agencies from recognizing legally wed same-sex couples.

The department previously announced in August 2013 that it had removed all references to DOMA from its existing FMLA rules and guidance, effectively extending unpaid leave benefits to married same-sex couples.

However, because the Labor Department’s definition of “spouse” for the purposes of FMLA eligibility is controlled by the marital laws in an employee’s state of residence, FMLA-protected leave benefits are currently not available to gay and lesbian spouses living in the 31 states that have not legalized same-sex marriage.

“The proposed rule recognizes that, no matter who you choose to marry, all spouses have a right to care for one another,” Debra Ness, president of the Washington-based National Partnership for Women & Families, said in a statement Friday. “Recognizing that right strengthens the nation by bringing us closer to true marriage equality.”