The Defense of Marriage Act, in addition to being a civil rights battle, has implications in the workplace, too. That’s why some major companies like Disney, Amazon and Microsoft (to name a few) have submitted amicus briefs encouraging the U.S. Supreme Court to reform the meaning of federal marriage to include same-sex unions. Their argument: It’s good for the country, but it’s also good for business.
DOMA legislation defines marriage as between a man and woman, which bars gay couples from some 1,138 federal benefits, including the right to file joint tax returns and claim inheritance-tax relief. It also prevents bi-national couples from helping a partner immigrate to the U.S.
For companies, like those filing the friend-of-the-court briefs, DOMA in its present state imposes more administrative costs by forcing them to treat same-sex and heterosexual married couples unequally by, for example, having to implement two systems of payroll and tax withholding.
“This situation also results in additional employee tax burdens with health insurance plans, and can affect payments, including retirement, pensions and life insurance,” writes Dave Gardner for biz570.com. “The current situation is further confused by the fact that nine states and Washington, D.C. legally recognize gay marriage. Three other states recognize same-sex unions performed elsewhere.”
Each state has some flexibility under federal law, but business has to abide by the strictest rules in their region, the article continues.
“Pennsylvania has no legal requirement for domestic partner arrangements,” Laura Muia, P.H.R., assistant vice president of human resources with Guard Insurance Group, tells Gardner. “Guard has an inclusive policy and currently recognizes domestic partners, but if the federal government legalizes gay marriage, it will be a mandate for equal benefits and all companies will then have to follow it.”
As it stands, Guard has to divvy out separate taxation systems, a thorn in the side, adds Muia.
The same goes for retirement plans. Spouses, by default are retirement beneficiaries, unless formally authorized otherwise. DOMA, then, excludes gay partners as automatic beneficiaries, which adds more paperwork to make sure they’re included in an employee’s plan.
You want to keep going? Well, the Family Medical Leave Act covers sickness for a worker, spouse, children and parents. Not for domestic partners.
When a company can’t promise equal benefits, they lose some of their marketing edge.
“Yes, unemployment is still high, but the needed skills and abilities for some positions are still hard to find,” Muia tells biz570. “Any time a company can broaden its field of applicants, it’s doing itself a service. The trades, in particular, are dying for skilled workers and we need inclusion there.”
All that just spotlights the workplace benefit. The national economic payoff of legalizing same-sex marriage is vastly larger.
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