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Redefining the Term “Spouse”

Redefining the Term “Spouse”

For the longest time now, members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community have been struggling in their fight against discrimination and aspire for acceptance by the community. Throughout the years, the LGBT community has been having steady gains when it comes to their battle for recognition and respect. However, these gains are very minimal to what this group aspires for. They want equal opportunities and support from the government for the members of the LGBT community, as well as an end to workplace discrimination against them.

Proposals to Amend FMLA Rules

Now, the LGBT community seems to have found an ally with US Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. The secretary has announced a proposal to change the rules that apply to the protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This proposal allows eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages protections under the FMLA. Such would make sure that families now can enjoy better flexibility in dealing with serious medical and family situations minus fears of losing their jobs. But what exactly are these amendments and how can these help protect the jobs of the LGBT community?

What “Spouse” Should Mean?

The DOL published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to be able to revise the definition of the term “spouse” under the FMLA. This move was made after the US Supreme Court has decided that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), particularly section 3, was unconstitutional. Here are some of the contents of the NPRM:

-          The Department is proposing that the “state of residence” rule shall be moved to a rule that is based on where the marriage was held. This can be called as the “place of celebration”.

-          This proposes a new definition of the word “spouse” as to being more than husbands and wives. The proposal aims that couples in same-sex marriages should also be included in addition to common law marriages. Moreover, this will encompass same-sex marriages that has been entered into abroad that could have also been entered into at least one State.

-          Furthermore, the Department is proposing the following changes in as far as the definition of spouse is concerned:

  • In the statue of the FMLA, a spouse is defined as a husband or wife. Now, husbands or wives should refer to one whom an individual entered into marriage that is defined or recognized by state laws. By this definition, the marriage of a couple in a same-ex or common law marriages should be recognized.

Through these proposals, couples in same sex and common law marriages will soon be allowed to enjoy the benefits of the FMLA, taking away the discrimination over couples because of such technicalities. While the LGBT community is happy about this latest development, they are hoping for more radical changes in the FMLA. No less than President Barack Obama has called on the stakeholders to help ensure that federal statutes be reviewed and make sure that the benefits and obligations are fulfilled and given to the beneficiaries regardless of their gender.

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