In the past, this exception has not extended to unmarried couples or to staffers in same-sex marriages without obtaining an exemption from the House Ethics Committee. The Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA may change things. The provision of DOMA at issue in the Supreme Court decision provided that for purpose of federal laws, rules and regulations, “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” The Supreme Court struck down this provision as unconstitutional, effectively requiring federal law to acknowledge legally valid, state same-sex marriages.
Thus, for the exception allowing members and staffers to accept benefits from “outside business or employment activities of the spouse of the Member or staff person,” DOMA would have limited the term “spouse” to participants in opposite-sex marriages. Now that this aspect of DOMA has been struck down, it would seem “spouse” as used in this exception, would extend to staffers like you who are in state-recognized same-sex marriages. To be sure, seek the guidance of the Ethics Committee.
Moreover, this is just one of many circumstances where federal recognition of state same-sex marriages could change things under House ethics rules. Any member or staffer in such a marriage would be wise to revisit the rules with this in mind.
C. Simon Davidson is a partner with the law firm McGuireWoods. Submit questions to email@example.com. Questions do not create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not treat his column as legal advice.