Minnesotans will be asked to decide at the polls whether we should amend our State Constitution to include a definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. I appreciate that for some of us this vote raises a number of personal, political, cultural and religious issues we need to grapple with in making our decision. And as a disclaimer, I personally plan to vote “No” on this Amendment for a number of reasons. However, I want to expound on one of those reasons because it directly relates to the subject matter I like to blog about: Minnesota employment law.
“What does this issue have to do with employment law?” you may ask. The answer is plenty. At the crux of the legal analysis regarding the constitutionality of gay marriage is the fact that government – federal, state and local – provides special benefits and rights to married couples. And many of these marriage-based government benefits relate to employment. For example, the Family Medical Leave Act allows many employees the right to take time off of work to care for a spouse or child with a serious medical condition. There are many employee benefits programs governed by state and federal law such as health insurance, 401(k) retirement accounts, and the right to receive workers’ compensation benefits for a incapacitated or deceased spouse that relate to marriage and the ability to marry.
The employment laws I have outlined above provide a number of benefits not just to the employees but to society in general. That is why they were passed in the first place. They allow for a smoother (and less expensive for taxpayers) transfer of wealth upon death or incapacity. They provide job security and financial stability in the event of serious illness or injury to family members. They allow for insurance coverage for medical and other costs that may otherwise not be provided to a non-family member.
Whether this Marriage Amendment passes or not, same-sex couples are going to continue to live together in committed long-term relationships. They are going to have and raise children. They are going to be responsible for financially supporting each other and their kids. The personal and societal benefits conferred by these laws would be equally as relevant to same-sex couples, and the benefits to society would presumably be the same as well. Thus, from an employment law perspective, these are a few reasons why you may want to consider voting “No” to Minnesota’s Marriage Amendment.