Clarification on the Definition of Spouse

This is additional guidance on the definition of “spouse” in sexual violence and intimate partner violence definitions documents.

On June 26, 2013, in United States v. Windsor (2013), the U.S. Supreme Court held unconstitutional section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex spouses and marriages.  CDC is issuing this guidance in keeping with HHS’ post-Windsor policy of treating same-sex marriages on the same terms as opposite-sex marriages to the greatest extent reasonably possible.  This guidance applies to the 1999 Intimate Partner Violence Definition Document and the 2002 Sexual Violence Definition Document issued by CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

In the 1999 Definitions Document, the term “spouse” is not defined.  The 2002 Definition Document defines “current or former legal spouse” as: “someone to whom the victim is or was legally married, as well as a separated legal spouse.”  It also includes a long definition of intimate partner that includes current legal spouses, current common-law spouses, etc.

Effective immediately, any reference in the current or future Definition Documents to “spouse,” “couple,” or “marriage,” as well as any reference to “family”, or “family member,” now includes same-sex couples that were legally married in jurisdictions (whether foreign or domestic, as long as at least one state would recognize the marriage) that recognize their marriages.  This applies regardless of whether the couple now lives in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage or a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage.  For example, if a couple married in the District of Columbia, where same-sex marriage is legal, but they live in Georgia, a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, the Definition Documents will treat the couple the same as it would any married opposite-sex couple.  Any same-sex marriage legally entered into or recognized in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, a U.S. territory or a foreign country will be so treated.

Page last reviewed: June 20, 2014