Same-sex marriage supporters wave a rainbow flag in front of the US Supreme Court on March 26, 2013 in Washington, DC. The US Supreme Court on Tuesday takes up the emotionally charged issue of gay marriage as it considers arguments that it should make history and extend equal rights to same-sex couples. Waving US and rainbow flags, hundreds of gay marriage supporters braved the cold to rally outside the court along with a smaller group of opponents, some pushing strollers. Some slept outside in hopes of witnessing the historic hearing. AFP/Getty Images

Insurance companies can't deny coverage to same-sex couples who buy their own policies, the Health and Human Services Department said Friday.

In a clarification for insurance companies, HHS said carriers in the individual market — the market for people who don't get coverage through an employer — must treat opposite-sex and same-sex marriages the same.

So, if an insurer covers married opposite-sex couples under family plans, the same option must be available to same-sex couples.

"In other words, insurance companies will not be permitted to discriminate against married same-sex couples when offering coverage," HHS said. "This will further enhance access to health care for all Americans, including those with same-sex spouses."

The requirement takes effect in 2015 and applies to the entire individual market, including plans sold on Obamacare's new exchanges, HHS said.

An Ohio couple sued the federal government last month after their insurer said they could not buy coverage as a family because Ohio does not recognize same-sex marriage.

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