Utah married couples of the same-sex are currently enjoying employment and federal legal benefits they weren’t always subject to in the past. However, those couples across Utah are now facing legal uncertainties on many benefits they were planning on having from now on.
With the December ruling that Utah’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, a short window of opportunity was presented for same-sex couples to wed in Utah until the ruling was put on hold due to an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Days after the stay in Utah was issued, the Federal government announced that they would be recognizing the same-sex marriages that are now in dispute by state law.
This legal fight on same-sex marriage is causing frustrating policy issues for wedded same-sex couples in Utah as Federal and State level laws for married couples currently do not match up well with each other.
“My spouse, Christie, and I got lucky and made it in that very tiny time frame where we submitted our certified marriage certificate noting our family status change,” said Lisa Williamson, UVU Director of the Equity in Education Center on campus. “We did this while same-sex marriage was still being recognized as legal in Utah, before the stay on January 6.”
Same-sex couples being able to enjoy the same employee and legal benefits married heterosexual couples experience has been a main argument driving the marriage equality debate across the nation.
UVU has experienced the impact of the brief duration same-sex marriages were allowed, with UVU employees taking part in same-sex marriages and applying for the spousal benefits UVU offers its employees.
“I was told by the staff in HR when I mentioned that this was a same-sex marriage that they would treat my spouse ‘just like any other spouse,’” said Williamson. “At that time, they were following not only the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law. HR has been terrific to work with. In fact, when I didn’t complete my change of enrollment form in one session, it timed out. They sent an email asking if I needed assistance with it.”
UVU currently offers a number of benefits geared towards spouses, including life insurance, medical insurance, and tuition benefits.
“Christie and her 20-year-old son are now fully covered under my employee benefits at UVU,” said Williamson. “They have the same medical, dental and vision that I do, at the same cost. They also each now qualify for tuition reimbursement. This is huge.”
Stability is something same-sex couples in Utah have not been able to experience. After becoming the 18th state to legalize same-sex marriage on December 20, 2013, the ruling on the matter from the Supreme Court was granted a stay to the Utah Attorney General’s office. County clerks estimate that during the 17-day time frame same-sex marriage was legalized in Utah, more than 1,300 marriage licenses were granted to same-sex couples.
“Since the stay was issued, I believe that HR, by Utah law, can no longer process other UVU employees seeking benefits for their spouses. Unless something has changed that I’m unaware of,” said Williamson. “HR continues to honor my change in benefits. If the 10th circuit or Supreme Court eventually rules my marriage as “illegal” or “illegitimate”—that language is heartbreaking and disturbing—then I guess UVU retracts all of our spousal/family benefits. Or maybe they’ll surprise me and keep them intact. We can only wait and see.”
Currently UVU and other universities across Utah, including University of Utah, Dixie and Weber, will continue to honor benefits to married same-sex couples who enrolled in benefits during the time frame same-sex marriage was legalized in Utah. Further assessment will be needed as this case progresses.
“Benefit enrollments processed prior to receiving direction from the State regarding the stay remain in effect,” said Judy Martindale, UVU director of compensation and benefits. “Moving forward, as the state and courts give additional direction on this matter, we, as a state entity, will respond accordingly.
Married same-sex couples in Utah will be allowed to file joint federal tax returns and qualify for federal benefits, however they may not be able to qualify for some state benefits for married couples. There are a number of government benefits and programs that are joint efforts between the federal and state government, such as The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, so the divide between federal and state government on recognizing will have impact on these as well for same-sex Utah marriages.
Now citizens in Utah, and most notably same-sex married couples, will be playing a waiting game to determine a more finalized resolution on the matter of what Utah defines as a marriage and the benefits that will be entitled to those marriages.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has granted Utah an extension on the date due for filing it’s brief against the ruling that Utah’s ban against same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
“For now, Christie and I are moving forward as a legally married couple and will file state and federal taxes together as well as enjoy the benefits that UVU offers all of its married employees,” said Williamson.