WASHINGTON (AP) — The Labor Department says legally married same-sex couples have the right to participate in employee benefit plans even if they live in states that don't recognize their union.

The new guidance means gay spouses enjoy the same rights as other married couples when it comes to pensions, 401Ks, health plans and health savings accounts.

The interpretation is consistent with a ruling from the Internal Revenue Service last month that legally married gay couples can file joint federal tax returns even if they reside in states that do not recognize same-sex marriages.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez calls the decision a "historic step toward equality for all American families." The decision clarifies questions left unanswered after the Supreme Court's ruling in June which invalidated part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.