Rice benefits for married same-sex couples affected by DOMA ruling

Special open enrollment available through Sept. 15

As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, Rice University is treating employees who have entered into legally recognized same-sex marriages just as it does employees in legally recognized opposite-sex marriages regarding federal taxation of employee benefits.

During a special open-enrollment period through Sept. 15, Rice employees in legally recognized same-sex marriages will be able to change eligible health and welfare benefits to pretax status and increase or elect a medical spending account based on the new federal definition of spouse. They should notify Human Resources of their marital status at benefits@rice.edu or call 713-348-2363 by Sept. 15. The changes will go into effect on the first day of the month  month after notification.

Rice will provide medical, dental and flexible spending account benefits to same-sex spouses and also COBRA and Family Medical Leave Act benefits to care for same-sex spouses. Also, as is the case for all couples, employees must name their same-sex spouse as the beneficiary for at least 50 percent of their benefits under the life insurance and retirement plans unless the spouse consents otherwise in writing.

Eligibility for these changes applies only to employees whose same-sex marriage took place in one of the 14 jurisdictions that currently recognize same-sex marriages: California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Employees who are planning to marry their same-sex partner in one of these jurisdictions or in any other state that subsequently recognizes same-sex marriages will have 31 days from the date of their marriage to enroll their spouse under the plan’s provisions for qualifying change in status.

For federal programs such as Social Security survivor benefits or Medicare coverage, same-sex married couples will need to await further federal clarification on how such programs will be administered.

“Although the Supreme Court decision does not apply to employees who have entered into same-sex or opposite-sex civil unions or who have registered as same-sex or opposite-sex domestic partners under state or local law, Rice will continue to provide domestic partner benefit coverage for same-sex and opposite-sex partnerships, just as we did prior to the Supreme Court decision,” said Mary Cronin, associate vice president for human resources.

“It is yet unclear how other federal laws, such as Social Security survivor benefits, will apply to employees who are residents of states that do not recognize same-sex marriages, such as Texas,” Cronin said. “More than 1,000 federal laws address marital or spouse status, so it is likely that future clarifications of Rice’s employee benefits will be necessary.”

Questions about the changes related to the DOMA ruling can be sent to Elaine Britt, assistant vice president for human resources and director of benefits/compensation, at benefits@rice.edu or 713-348-2363.


About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.