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Education Groups Issue Guide on Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

School districts and their workers face a host of employment changes because of the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling striking down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. 

Now, three education groups have collaborated on a "frequently-asked questions" guide to help administrators with the changes that bring new benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married.

U.S. school districts employ some 6.2 million teachers and other workers, "so it's summarily important that they pay attention to this decision," Francisco M. Negrón, the general counsel of the National School Boards Association, said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.

"We think it is very, very important for school districts [to] inform their employees of the benefits" available to same-sex couples under the court's June 26 decision in United States v. Windsor, said Negrón, who spearheaded the effort among the NSBA, the American Association of School Administrators, and the National Education Association.

"The Windsor decision is a major milestone in American history," said Alice O'Brien, the general counsel of the NEA, who added that it helps send the message that the bullying of gay and lesbian youths in schools is wrong.

The document, "The Do's and Don'ts of DOMA," however, focuses on more nuts-and-bolts issues of taxes and benefits for employees in same-sex marriages.

In Windsor, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the provision of DOMA that defined marriage as excluding same-sex partners violated the U.S. Constitution by interfering with the dignity of same-sex marriages.

The school groups' FAQ document notes that the decision affects more than 1,000 federal laws that deal with benefits to "spouses." These include health benefits, family and medical leave policies, retirement benefits, pre-tax spending accounts, and others.

"Every [school board] policy and benefit that defines or refers to marriage or spouses in the application of a federal benefit," the document says. 

With the recent addition of New Jersey, 14 states plus the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages. Negrón said a big question surrounds those states that don't recognize them. 

"Those districts have to account for those employees who are legally married with regard to federal benefits, regardless of what state law permits," he said.

Some employment matters, such as federal taxation, apply to same-sex couples in those states if they were legally married in a state that recognizes such unions. Other federal benefits, such as Social Security, are determined by the employee's state of residence, the guide says.

Federal agencies are still developing policies stemming from the Windsor decision, the document notes. The education groups plan to update the FAQ document to reflect such changes, Negrón said.

"These changes are coming quickly," he said.

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