New FMLA Regulations Move to a “Place of Celebration” Rule for Same-Sex Spouses

Same-sex spouses in all states may now take FMLA leave to care for each other.

On March 27, 2015, a new law will go into effect that changes the definition of “spouse” under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). When it comes to same-sex marriages, the Department of Labor currently follows a “place of residence" rule. Under this rule, an employee can take FMLA leave for a same-sex spouse only if the marriage is recognized in the state where the employee lives.

The Department of Labor is now moving to a “place of celebration” rule. Under this new rule, an employee can take FMLA leave for a same-sex spouse as long as the marriage was valid in the state where it was entered into. This provides all same-sex spouses with the same FMLA leave rights, regardless of what state they live in.

A same-sex marriage that took place in a foreign country will also be recognized, as long as it could have been entered into in at least one state. In other words, foreign marriages that would be illegal in all 50 states will not be recognized for FMLA purposes.

Eligible employees will now be able to take FMLA leave to:

  • care for a same-sex spouse with a serious health condition
  • care for a same-sex spouse who suffered a serious injury or illness while on active military duty, and
  • attend to certain needs arising from a same-sex spouse’s call to active military duty.

For more information, see our detailed blog post on the new FMLA spouse regulations.