Same-sex ruling has employers tweaking benefits

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“It answers one question and raised many more,” said Susan Hoffman, a Philadelphia attorney who focuses on employee benefits. “There may be pressures on the employer, but there is no legal mandate.”

About 62 percent of Fortune 500 companies already offer same-sex domestic partner health benefits, according to the gay advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. More of those companies, and perhaps smaller firms, could decide to extend those benefits in light of the court’s decision.

Several companies that already offer domestic partner benefits told The Associated Press that they did not plan any immediate changes. That includes Ford Motor Co., which has offered same-sex benefits to hourly and salaried employees since 2000, spokesman Jay Cooney said.

At glass manufacturer Corning in New York, spokesman Daniel Collins said the company has been in the process of revising its policies as different states legalize gay marriage. For now, though, it plans to keep its domestic partner benefits until it has more guidance.

“It’s so new and actions are occurring so quickly,” Collins said.

Verizon spokesman Ray McConville said the company was still evaluating the decision.

Hoffman said the legal ambiguities will have to be resolved in future court decisions as gay couples seek to protect their benefits in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Macey said the federal government could go a long way in clarifying things when it issues regulations establishing how the court ruling should be implemented. The court seemed to leave it up to the Internal Revenue Service and other various federal agencies to decide how to resolve conflicts between states over gay marriage.

President Barack Obama said he’s directed the attorney general and members of his Cabinet “to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly.”

It’s possible the Obama administration could say that federal benefits should be granted equally to all spouses in same-sex marriages, even if they live in a state that won’t recognize the union, Macey said. But such a ruling would not prevent the continued denial of state benefits to gay couples in states where same-sex marriages are not legal.

Macey said most companies will probably wait to see how the federal government is going to interpret the decision.

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Follow Sam Hananel on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SamHananelAP

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