The state Board of Regents voted Monday to comply with federal laws and recognize same-sex marriages for participants in a University System of Georgia retirement plan.
The vote amends the definition of spouse in the system’s Optional Retirement Plan, and it allows same-sex spouses to receive the same federal tax benefits as those in heterosexual marriages. The required change follows Internal Revenue Service guidelines for some qualified retirement plans issued after a Supreme Court decision last year overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, limiting marriage to being between a man and a woman.
The IRS retirement plan rules apply to people who were married in states where same-sex marriage is recognized, regardless of whether a person currently lives in a state, such as Georgia, where same-sex marriage is not recognized, said Marion Fedrick, the University System’s vice chancellor of human resources.
About 27,000 employees at state colleges and universities participate in the Optional Retirement Plan. The plan change — which will be retroactive to June 2013’s DOMA ruling — will not have an impact on the system’s finances, Fedrick said, and it is unclear how many participants will be affected under the amended guidelines.
Because Georgia does not recognize same-sex marriage, Monday’s vote and plan amendment do not apply to other University System benefits, including health care coverage, Fedrick said. Three couples and a widow have filed a federal lawsuit challenging Georgia’s same-sex marriage ban.
The federal compliance for certain retirement plans differs from previous discussions of state benefits for domestic partners of system employees. Before his retirement last year, then University of Georgia President Michael Adams pushed through an extension of some voluntary benefits — dental, vision, accident insurance and supplemental life insurance — to domestic partners. He was rebuffed by UGA’s foundation, which would not support funding for a health insurance plan for domestic partners because it was not a part of the foundation’s mission.
Also Monday, the board approved a 5 percent salary increase for University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby. The $21,250 annual increase will be paid to Huckaby as deferred compensation.
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