More than 200 businesses signed the amicus brief against the Defense of Marriage Act Wednesday, including some of Boston’s largest corporations.
The brief was created as a result of Supreme Court case, U.S. v. Windsor. Edith Windsor married her partner Thea Spyer in Canada in 2007 but resided in New York, a state that recognized same-sex marriage. When Spyer passed away, Windsor had to pay Federal Estate taxes for Spyer’s estate, which she would not have had to pay if gay marriage rights were recognized under federal law.
Kara Suffredini, executive director of MassEquality, a statewide grassroots LGBTQ rights advocacy organization, said the case was a perfect example of the inequality that DOMA continues to support.
“Because [Windsor’s] relationship was not recognized, she was treated like a legal stranger for estate purposes, and the government taxed her partner’s estate at the 50-percent tax rate and she lost $300,000,” she said.
Suffredini said that with the removal of DOMA, businesses would have an easier time treating their employees fairly.
“Part of the motivation for this amazing brief is that businesses have known for a long time that equality is good for business,” she said.
Suffredini said the companies that signed onto this brief often try to balance out same-sex couples’ benefits by using something called “grossing up.”
“For employees that are in same-sex relationships, they [businesses] offer a stipend to compensate for the taxes that same-sex couples pay for their healthcare. The government considers health benefits that same-sex partners receive as income, instead of benefits,” she said.
State Street was one of the Boston-based organizations that signed the brief. The business has a sector, PRIDE, dedicated to maintaining equality in the workplace.
Hannah Grove, chief marketing officer and executive sponsor for State Street’s PRIDE network, said State Street was supportive of the brief because it advocated for equality.
“It’s incredibly important that we have a workplace that is diverse, inclusive and from our point of view that includes having all of our married colleagues be treated fairly,” Grove said.
EMC Corporation, another major company that signed the brief, has had problems with DOMA for both social and logistical reasons.
Executive Vice President and counsel at EMC, Paul Dacier, said DOMA creates difficulties for businesses in which employees must be able to move to different areas of the country.
“We’re a very mobile organization, and when we move people around we have to check that they are still eligible for the same benefits,” he said. “If we move someone from Massachusetts and we move them to a different state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, there’s a process of administering that and tracking that.”
Beth Boland, a lawyer from Bingham McCutchen who worked on the brief, said after the brief got the exposure of the press, there was a massive outreach to the firm from employees of the signing companies.
“Since that brief was filed and there was a lot of press around it, we have gotten so many ‘thank yous’ from employees around the country that say ‘I work for so-and-so, and I see that they signed onto the brief, and we are so happy that our company has signed on,’” Boland said.
Boland said the only negative feedback came from the National Organization for Marriage.
“[The organization] wrote to many of the companies that signed the brief after it was made public and basically said ‘we are going to make a big stink about this, we’re going to boycott your products,’ but that didn’t phase any of the signatories,” she said.
Scott Markley, a public information specialist for the U.S. Supreme Court, said the DOMA case is scheduled for oral argument at 10 a.m. March 27. As for when the final decision would be made, Markley said he was unsure.
“No one knows exactly when a decision will be handed down by the court in an argued case,” Markey said. “Nor is there a set time period in which the justices must reach a decision. However, all cases argued during a term of court are usually decided before the summer recess begins at the end of June.”