09/27/2013 02:33 EDT | Updated 11/27/2013 05:12 EST

Exxon to offer benefits to US same-sex couples, says it is following federal government's lead

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Exxon says it will begin offering benefits to legally married same-sex couples in the U.S. for the first time as of Jan. 1.

The company says it will recognize "all legal marriages" when it determines eligibility for health care plans for the company's 77,000 employees and retirees in the U.S.

That means if a gay employee has been married in a state or country where gay marriage is legal, his or her spouse will be eligible for benefits with the company starting next year.

Exxon Mobil Corp., which is facing a same-sex discrimination lawsuit in Illinois, said Friday it was following the lead of the U.S. government. Federal agencies have begun to offer benefits to legally-married same sex couples in recent months.