White House in new expansion of rights of same-sex married couples

Same-sex marriage supporters hold a rally in front of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals before a court hearing May 13, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia.

Zach Gibson, Getty Images

The Labor Department on Friday will move to clarify that, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, a federal employee is eligible for leave to care for a same-sex spouse regardless of where he or she lives, according to a White House official.

The decision follows last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits - Social Security benefits, for example, or the ability to file joint tax returns -- to married same-sex couples.

But questions arose over how marriage is recognized -- by where the couple was married or by where they live. Labor's proposal is designed to erase that barrier.

After the high court's ruling, President Obama ordered the Justice Department to review all federal laws to make sure the decision was implemented quickly and smoothly -- including all statutes affecting federal benefits and obligations.

The new move is part of that review, which is now finished.

As a result, almost all federal benefits for same-sex married couples will be provided regardless of where they live, the White House official said.

A handful of provisions under current law keep the federal government from extending benefits to couples, the review found.

The administration is calling for legislation to change those provisions, citing for example the Respect for Marriage bills introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the Social Security and Marriage Equality Act introduced by Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado and Patty Murray of Washington, and the Veterans Affairs' amendment proposed by Sens. Udall and Jeanne Shaheen earlier this year. All those lawmakers are Democrats.

Among steps already taken by the Obama administration to implement the Supreme Court ruling: The Pentagon said same-sex couples could get all benefits available to opposite-sex couples, the Department of Homeland Security began treating same-sex marriages exactly the same as opposite-sex marriages under immigration law, and the Department of Health and Human Services clarified that if insurance companies choose to offer spousal coverage, they couldn't refuse to offer it to same-sex spouses.