Is “Spouse” an Ambiguous Term in Virginia Insurance Policies?

By Cory Bilton

Wedding Figurines 1

In a historic move last week, the Supreme Court decided United States v. Windsor, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as violating due process and equal protection rights guaranteed by the Constitution.  The consequence of the decision is that the federal government and federal law must treat all legally-valid marriages equally, regardless of whether it is a same-sex marriage or heterosexual marriage.  Locally, same-sex couples can legally marry in either DC or Maryland.  These couples will now enjoy both state and federal recognition of their marriage.

Virginia, however, is a different story.  In 2006, Virginia passed a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as “only a union between one man and one woman . . . .”  The Windsor decision does not require Virginia to grant or acknowledge same-sex marriages. But with Virginia’s close proximity to both DC and Maryland, same-sex couples who reside in Virginia can marry with relative ease by just crossing the state line.  Although Virginia will not recognize these marriages, now the federal government will.  As I brainstormed the Windsor decision’s effect on our firm’s practice areas, I realized that same-sex spouses living in Virginia, with a legal marriage from another state, should enjoy expanded insurance coverage because “spouse” is now an ambiguous term.

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