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Businesses Tout Marriage Equality Bill for Workers

The coalition's formation comes at a time when the Obama administration is taking steps to ease federal benefit rules for same-sex domestic partners and spouses.

February 27, 2013

A coalition of large businesses has formed to support a bill repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits married same-sex couples from receiving myriad federal rights and benefits.

The Business Coalition for DOMA Repeal includes large employers such as Aetna Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., eBay Inc., Electronic Arts Inc., Marriott International Inc. and Thomson Reuters.

The group is backing the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA and recognize all legal marriages for federal purposes. The bill's sponsors in Congress, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, are expected to reintroduce it this congressional session. A spokeswoman for Feinstein says she does not know the timing.

"We are proud of our longstanding commitment to diversity, inclusion and equal treatment of all our employees within our benefits programs," says David Rodriguez, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Marriott International, in a written statement. "Joining the Business Coalition for DOMA Repeal affirms that commitment, and we urge Congress to pass this important legislation."

The coalition's formation comes at a time when the Obama administration is taking steps to ease federal benefit rules for same-sex domestic partners and spouses. On Feb. 11, the Pentagon announced that it would extend a slew of equal benefits to gay and lesbian service members by October. These benefits include access to child care, hospital visits and issuing of military ID cards so family members can access on-base commissaries and other services.

The changes at the Defense Department are limited because of DOMA, which was signed by then-President Bill Clinton in 1996. The law excludes same-sex unions from more than 1,000 federal benefits and protections. Even same-sex couples married in one of the nine states that allow same-sex marriages cannot claim these benefits.

The benefits include the ability to file taxes jointly; receive spousal or surviving spouse benefits under Social Security; take unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act; and receive equal family health and pension benefits for federal employees.

The Respect for Marriage Act would extend these rights and benefits to all legally married couples, recognizing state actions on the matter of same-sex marriage. In addition, federal benefits to same-sex married couples would be valid even in states that don't allow gay marriage.

Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Respect for Marriage Act in a 10-8 vote, but the bill did not advance further.

The Human Rights Campaign, a nonprofit group that advocates for gay, lesbian and transgender civil rights, organized the new business coalition.

"We call on both large and small businesses to add their voices to the growing chorus calling for an end to this odious law," says Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, regarding DOMA.

In the meantime, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the constitutionality of DOMA in the coming weeks, with a ruling expected this summer. The Obama administration has refused to defend the law in court.

Patsy Doerr, global head of diversity and inclusion at Thomson Reuters, says the company is "proud to join the HRC and our coalition partners in supporting this important initiative that reflects Thomson Reuters' own principles and policies on diversity, inclusion, fairness and equality."

Rebecca Vesely is a writer based in San Francisco. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.