IRS Finalizes Regulations for Same-Sex Marriages
On September 2, 2016 the IRS issued final regulations reflecting the U.S. Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage and prior IRS guidance in Revenue Ruling 2013-17. The new regulations finalize proposed regulations issued in 2015, with only a few minor changes, and confirmed and formalized the definition of "spouse" for federal tax purposes. To clarify, the terms "spouse," "husband," and "wife" mean an individual lawfully married to another individual; the term "husband and wife" means two individuals lawfully married to each other. Further, the IRS says that any marriage of two individuals is recognized for federal tax purposes if that marriage is recognized by any U.S. state, possession, or territory.
The IRS moved to address these issues after a landmark 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (United States v. Windsor) struck down the section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that prohibited same-sex marriages. Following the Windsor decision, the IRS outlined the tax basics in Revenue Ruling 2013-17, which indicated that a "spouse" (for federal tax purposes) would include someone's legal same sex spouse under state marriage laws. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled, in the now infamous case Obergefell v. Hodges, that same-sex marriages are legal throughout the nation and under the Fourteenth Amendment, required states to provide licenses for same sex marriages and recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex if it was lawfully licensed and performed in another state. As a result of the Obergefell ruling, this eliminated many of the benefits-related legal concerns that previously existed with respect to same sex couples, such as disparities between federal and state income tax laws.
Because the final regulations formally adopted prior proposed definitions with only minor changes, we do not anticipate the regulations will require benefit plans to make significant changes. It is, however, a good time for plan sponsors to review who you are treating as "spouses" and consider bringing your administrative procedures and plan provisions in-line with Supreme Court case law, if you have not already done so.
Wilkins Finston Friedman Law Group LLP contributed to this article. It is not intended to provide, does not constitute, and cannot be relied upon as legal, tax or compliance advice. The information contained in this communication is subject to change based on future regulation and guidance.
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