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

Starbucks is among the companies that have filed a brief against the Defense of Marriage Act, being challenged at the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Drew Angerer
Getty Images
Starbucks is among the companies that have filed a brief against the Defense of Marriage Act, being challenged at the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

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.

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

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.

Copyright 2013 WBUR

Curt Nickisch