The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in four same sex marriage cases this April. The justices will decide whether to uphold bans in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky.  The court had previously declined to decide the issue because the circuit courts that had previously issued rulings all ruled against the ban.  With the 6th Circuit’s decision, the federal appellate courts are no longer unanimous in their decisions.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear these cases comes on the heels of Florida’s recent January 6th recognition of same sex marriage, the 36th such state to do so, and the critical questioning of state bans in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

If the ban on same sex marriage is lifted, insurance companies will likely be required to extend insurance benefits to same sex spouses. The decision, however, will likely have no effect on the ability of self-insured plans to implement a plan-specific definition of “spouse.”  While employers may use their own terms to define spouse, enacting a definition of spouse that is at odds with state and federal law may expose those companies to lawsuits under the state and federal anti-discriminatory statutes.  Many expect a decision by June of this year.