The Same-Sex Marriage Debate Rolls On and Another State Sanctions Same-Sex Unions

In late March, the United States Supreme Court heard two cases relating to same-sex marriage.  In the matter of United States v. Windsor, the Defense of Marriage Act is being challenged.  In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the California same-sex marriage controversy is being reviewed.  (See prior Benefit Beat articles: Marriage – Where Does It Stand?, 3/2/11and Benefit Plans Impacted by Evolving World of Recognized Relationships, 2/9/11) 

Opinions on these matters may be issued as early as late June.  It is very unclear how the Supreme Court will rule, however states are forging ahead with their own efforts in these arenas.  Employee benefit plan provisions, as well as practices and procedures, must be reviewed in light of any changes in the definition of marriage.

On March 21, 2013, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed the Colorado Civil Union Act which establishes civil unions as a legal relationship recognized within the state. A civil union is between two (2) persons regardless of gender.  The Act also recognizes civil unions that were entered into in other jurisdictions as civil unions under Colorado law as long as the parties are eligible to enter into a civil union in Colorado.  The Act is effective beginning May 1, 2013.

Parties to a civil union will have the same rights and responsibilities as those of spouses under Colorado law, including, but not limited to:

  • Family leave benefits;
  • Ability to cover the party to a civil union as a dependent under a life insurance policy (effective for plans issued, delivered, or renewed on or after January 1, 2014);
  • Ability to cover the party to a civil union as a dependent under a health coverage plan (effective for plans issued, delivered, or renewed on or after January 1, 2014); and
  • Other insurance policies that provide coverage relating to joint ownership of property (effective for plans issued, delivered or renewed on or after January 1, 2014).

Self-funded health plans subject to ERISA are not subject to state law and therefore are not subject to the requirement to include civil union partners.

Federal law prohibits the filing of joint income tax returns by parties who are not legally married under Federal law.  Colorado state income tax filings mirrors the federal income tax, and therefore the Civil Union Act shall not be construed to permit the filing of a joint state income tax return by the parties to a civil union.

Below is a list summarizing the type of relationship recognized, including opposite-sex civil unions, and the effective dates of each jurisdiction’s recognition.



Same-Sex Civil Union

Opposite-Sex Civil Union

Effective Date







May 1, 2013

October 28, 2008





January 1, 2012

District of Columbia




March 3, 2010





January 1, 2012





June 1, 2011





April 3, 2009





January 5, 2013





January 1, 2013





May 17, 2004

New Hampshire




January 1, 2010

New Jersey




February 19, 2007

New York




July 24, 2011

Rhode Island




July 1, 2011





September 1, 2009





June 7, 2012

Special note about California: California recognizes marriages between same-sex partners that occurred between June 16, 2008 and November 4, 2008.


The information contained in this Benefit Beat is not intended to be legal, accounting, or other professional advice, nor are these comments directed to specific situations.

As required by U.S. Treasury rules, we inform you that, unless expressly stated otherwise, any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this Benefit Beat is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by any person for the purpose of avoiding any penalties that may be imposed by the Internal Revenue Service.

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