HR Management & Compliance

Maryland same-sex marriage law goes into effect January 1

by Kevin C. McCormick

Maryland’s new law allowing same-sex marriage takes effect January 1, 2013, meaning employers need to understand what changes are in store for the workplace.

The General Assembly passed the law legalizing same-sex marriage that Governor Martin O’Malley signed on March 12, 2012. However, the new law was on hold until Maryland voters decided to uphold it in a referendum held November 6.

Now that the law has been approved, Maryland employers are obligated to apply it in the workplace. Administering benefits to employees in same-sex marriages may be problematic. For example, while the federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides certain benefits to spouses, it isn’t clear if spousal benefits will apply to employees in same-sex marriages since the federal Defense of Marriage Act bars such individuals from receiving federal rights or benefits, regardless of whether state benefits are permitted.

Many other rights, though, will be available to same-sex married couples. For example, they will have the same rights (such as annulment, divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, adoption, and property division) under family laws as heterosexual married couples. Same-sex married couples also will have the right to sue for wrongful death, loss of consortium, and any other personal injury or claim involving spousal relationships. And they will have equal medical rights, property inheritance when a partner dies without a will, and certain joint state tax filing benefits.

Employers are advised to review and update personnel policies regarding the various benefits that are available to employees and their spouses as well as policies dealing with discrimination and harassment. Also, employers need to make sure all employee contact information is updated and includes any new information about spouses. Employers are further advised to train supervisors and managers on the new law and its implications.

Kevin C. McCormick is chair of the Labor and Employment Section with the Baltimore law firm of Whiteford, Taylor & Preston and is editor of Maryland Employment Law Letter. He can be reached at

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