The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows certain employees unpaid leave for various medical purposes, including caring for a spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition. 29 U.S.C. 2612(a)(1)(c). On February 25, 2015, the Department of Labor revised the definition of “spouse” so that every eligible employee in a legal, same-sex marriage can take FMLA leave to care for his or her spouse. This change ensures that all eligible employees in legal, same-sex marriages—wherever they live—will have the same rights under the FMLA as employees in traditional marriages. See 29 CFR 825.102. Prior to this rule change, the Department of Labor defined spouse as “a husband or wife as defined or recognized under state law for purposes of marriage, including common law marriage in states where it is recognized.” 58 FR 31817, 31835 (June 4, 1993).
This change to the definition of “spouse” under the FMLA came about in the wake of a United States Supreme Court decision in 2013 that struck down the definition of “spouse” under the Defense of Marriage Act. See United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675, 2682 (2013). This Supreme Court decision motivated President Obama to ask all federal agencies to alter laws, rules, policies, and practices that perpetuated discrimination against same-sex couples. After changing the definition of “spouse,” the Department of Labor issued the following statement: “Today, we’ve carried out the president’s directive to ensure that all married couples everywhere . . . can have the peace of mind that comes with the right to deal with a loved one’s serious medical situation without the threat of job loss.”