'It's Bad For Business': Employers Side With DOMA Opponents

Mar 26, 2013
Originally published on March 27, 2013 2:58 pm

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act — the federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. And among those asking the justices to strike it down is a broad cross section of corporate America.

Nearly 300 companies have filed a brief arguing that the law — called DOMA for short — hits them where it counts: their bottom lines.

Boston lawyer Sabin Willett smiles, remembering when he sent the brief to be printed at a shop in New York.

"The printer, he said: 'All these pages and pages of corporations,' he says, 'you know what that's going to cost? My God,' he says, 'You have to list them all?!' I said, 'That's the whole point!' " Willet recalls.

On the list are Johnson & Johnson, Starbucks and Citigroup. There's Apple, Nike and Morgan Stanley, too. And it even includes municipal employers — Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles, and some counties and chambers of commerce. So many signed up — 278 in all — that the appendix listing them is longer than the written argument itself.

Jack Christin, associate general attorney at eBay, says the case against DOMA is pretty simple. "It's bad for business," he says. "It's bad for our company and our employees. And it simply needs to go."

The Defense of Marriage Act prevents same-sex couples from getting medical coverage and other tax and retirement benefits that other employees receive for their spouses. And that complicates things for any business that employs people in any of the nine states and Washington, D.C., where same-sex couples are lawfully married.

"We're basically treating people differently," says Mark Roellig, general counsel at MassMutual Financial. He says DOMA forces his company to keep track of a dual system, and that costs time and money.

"You have to keep separate sets of books. You've got to continually be adjusting. And then also picking up the potential legal risk if you make a mistake," he says. "So it's ongoing administrative costs that are pretty significant."

His company does not want to discriminate, Roelling says. So MassMutual uses a workaround to give employees benefits for their same-sex spouses. But then DOMA forces those employees to pay more in taxes and MassMutual pays more, too.

Profit cuts are not the only reason businesses are complaining about the law — it's also about the work environment. Hannah Grove, executive vice president at State Street, a financial firm, says DOMA is hurting company's ability to create an inclusive atmosphere.

"In order to compete in today's global competitive environment, our employees are one of our greatest assets," Grove says.

And Paul Guzzi, CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, says, "Talent is talent." He has signed the brief opposing DOMA. He says in the nine years since Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same sex marriage, normally risk-averse conservative companies have come around.

"Cultural change takes time, and I think this is the time," he says.

Guzzi says the broad range of businesses now denouncing DOMA maybe more than anything else reflects a growing mainstream acceptance of same-sex marriage.

"Any public backlash would have happened a long time ago. We're hopeful that the law catches up with where — as the brief shows — a lot of corporate America is," says Thomas Maloney, director of government affairs at Marriott. His company signed the brief without fear of getting boycotted, he says.

Overall, 278 employers signed on to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act. The number of companies that filed a brief arguing DOMA is good for business? Zero.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

Today, the Supreme Court entered the gay marriage debate. It heard arguments for and against California's Proposition 8. More on that elsewhere in the program. Right now, we're going to focus on tomorrow's case, a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. That's the federal law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

Among those asking the justices to strike it down is a broad cross section of corporate America. Nearly 300 companies have filed a brief arguing that the law known as DOMA hits them where it counts: their bottom lines.

Curt Nickisch of member station WBUR has the story from Boston where the brief was written.

CURT NICKISCH, BYLINE: Boston lawyer Sabin Willett smiles, remembering when he sent the brief to be printed at a shop in New York.

SABIN WILLETT: The printer, he said, all these pages and pages of corporations, he says, you know what that's going to cost? My God, he says, you have to list them all? I said, that's the whole point. So...

(LAUGHTER)

NICKISCH: On the list are Johnson & Johnson, Facebook, Starbucks and Citigroup. There's Apple, NIKE, Morgan Stanley and Disney, also some municipal employers: Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles and some counties and chambers of commerce. So many signed up, 278 in all, that the appendix listing them is longer than the written argument itself.

eBay's Jack Christin says the case against DOMA is pretty simple.

JACK CHRISTIN: It's bad for business. It's bad for our company and our employees. And it simply needs to go.

NICKISCH: The Defense of Marriage Act prevents same-sex couples from getting medical coverage and other tax and retirement benefits that other employees get for their spouses. And that complicates things for any business that employs people in any of the nine states where same-sex couples are lawfully married.

MARK ROELLIG: We're basically treating people differently.

NICKISCH: Mark Roellig with MassMutual Financial Group says DOMA forces his company to keep track of a dual system. That costs time and money.

ROELLIG: You have to keep separate sets of books. You've got to continually be adjusting and then also picking up the potential legal risk if you make a mistake. So it's ongoing administrative costs that are pretty significant.

NICKISCH: Roellig says his company does not want to discriminate. So MassMutual uses a workaround to give employees benefits for their same-sex spouses. But then DOMA forces those employees to pay more in taxes and MassMutual pays more too.

Cutting into profits is not the only reason businesses are complaining about the law. Hannah Grove at the Boston financial firm State Street says DOMA hurts her company's ability to create an inclusive work environment.

HANNAH GROVE: In order to compete in today's global, competitive environment, you know, our employees are one of our greatest assets.

PAUL GUZZI: Talent is talent.

NICKISCH: That's Paul Guzzi. He's the head of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, which also signed the brief opposing DOMA. He says in the nine years since Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, normally risk-averse, conservative companies have come around.

GUZZI: Cultural change takes time, and I think this is the time.

NICKISCH: Guzzi says the broad range of businesses now denouncing DOMA reflects growing mainstream acceptance of same-sex marriage maybe more than anything else.

Thomas Maloney at Marriott says his company signed onto the brief without fear of getting boycotted.

THOMAS MALONEY: You know, any public backlash would have happened a long time ago. We're hopeful that the law catches up with where, as the brief shows, a lot of corporate America is.

NICKISCH: Two hundred seventy-eight employers signed on to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act. The number of companies that filed a brief arguing DOMA is good for business? That number is zero.

For NPR News, I'm Curt Nickisch in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.