Unless you're personally connected to the issue, it may not be clear exactly why the recent decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide is a big deal in Minnesota. After all, same-sex marriage was already legal here, and we have a number of other laws protecting the civil rights of LGBT people. Wasn't the Supreme Court just forcing other states to do what Minnesota has already done?
Obergefell v. Hodges will likely impact both gay and straight couples in Minnesota
The legality of same-sex marriage itself won't change in Minnesota, but marriage has a whole host of collateral legal effects. For one, Obergefell ensures that same-sex marriages from Minnesota are recognized across the U.S., meaning that LGBT couples can now move to any state they like without having their marital status challenged -- which can affect everything from adoption to the right to pick up your kids from school.
Another major impact is likely to be the availability of spousal benefits through employer-sponsored insurance plans. According to a recent story by NPR, it's probable that the Obergefell will mean a jump in the number of people covered by employer-sponsored plans.
That projection comes from a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The researchers compared insurance rates among LGBT couples before and after the state of New York legalized same-sex marriage in 2012. Because many more companies offer health benefits to their employees' spouses than to their employees' domestic partners, the availability of marriage for same-sex couples created a large, new group of eligible spouses. After legalization, the number of LGBT people covered by employer-sponsored plans rose substantially.
More directly, big employers are eager to get on board. According to an industry group for large-employers, Obergefell will make things much easier for employee benefit administrators.
"We're relieved because this basically means you won't have to do a state-by-state analysis" of legally available benefits, said a spokesperson. "We always want uniform treatment."
Less clear is the impact Obergefell could have on couples in committed, non-marital relationships like domestic partnerships and civil unions. Historically, virtually all companies offering benefits at all have offered spousal benefits. Before Obergefell, fewer than half offered benefits to employees' domestic or registered cohabitation partners.
Will benefits for committed unmarried couples disappear? Companies will decide for themselves, and we'll see. Last year, Verizon announced it was discontinuing such benefits wherever marriage was available for all couples.