Overturning DOMA to expand FMLA

This month, the federal Department of Labor issued a statement with guidelines for expanding the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to include same sex couples in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

One of the biggest critiques of the Family and Medical Leave Act has been that its definition of ‘family’ wasn’t inclusive. Specifically, FMLA did not recognize legally married same sex partners as spouses. FMLA would provide for taking time away from work for your child, but not to take care of your seriously ill husband or wife, a benefit that FMLA did afford to married couples.

What impact will this have on Washington State? Under our state’s marriage equality law, it’s legal for same-sex couples here to apply for FMLA benefits, including 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of a family member or spouse.

However, in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage, married couples will still be barred from accessing FMLA. This will most likely complicate cross-state job searches for spouses looking for places that will recognize their marriage. Efforts are underway by advocates at the federal level to protect same-sex couples’ rights to family and medical leave regardless of where they reside.

Now that DOMA is dead, we need to build state and federal programs that protect the health and economic equity of all families. At EOI, we’re working to create Family Medical Leave Insurance and statewide standards for Paid Sick Days in Washington.

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