Viacom, Amazon and Microsoft advocate for and contribute to marriage campaigns
July 30, 2012
This week, media conglomerate Viacom joined the ranks of Google, CBS, Zynga, Levi Strauss and others in filing court briefs opposing the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of legal marriages between same-sex couples.
The company is one of the best-known corporations to push publicly for this position - and it comes a year after Viacom CEOs lobbied New York legislators to approve the freedom to marry last year. It's not a surprise to see the enterprise joining other companies in the push for the repeal of DOMA.
That's because businesses like Viacom know that DOMA hurts businesses and forces them to discriminate against their employees, thanks to the disconnect between federal law and state laws - some of which provide for the legal marriages of same-sex couples.
In November 2011, 48 companies, including Google, CBS, Levis Strauss, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mass., the Ogilvy Group, Time Warner Cable, Xerox, Nike, Starbucks and Zipcar, signed onto an amicus brief outlining how DOMA negatively affects companies.
DOMA forces employers to maintain separate records for same-sex couples, reprogram enrollment systems to account for different spousal circumstances, and train (or often retraining) human resources, benefits, and payroll personnel as marriage laws continue to change. Since the burden of compliance is placed on employers, companies are required to treat employees as with a same-sex spouse as unmarried for the purpose of federal tax withholding, payroll taxes and workplace benefits.
In addition to detailing these expenses, the amicus brief touched on how DOMA hurts businesses trying to attract and keep the best employees. The brief cites a study that found that robust workplace benefits directly contribute to employee loyalty. The study - the MetLife 9th Annual Study of Employee Benefit Trends - showed that 74 percent of polled employees found health benefits as an important driver of employee loyalty. 64 percent agreed regarding retirement benefits and 59 percent agreeing regarding dental, disability, vision and life insurance benefits.
For the employers who filed the brief, workplace benefits and a workplace ethos of transparent fairness are critical to enterprise success. However, with DOMA prohibiting such benefits to working same-sex married couples, American employers who implement DOMA are obliged to treat such individuals as second-class citizens regardless of their equally lawful marriage.
DOMA forces amici to investigate the gender of the spouses of our lawfully-married employees and then to single out those employees with a same-sex spouse. DOMA enforces discriminatory tax treatment of spousal health care benefits. In many other benefit-related matters, amici must incur cost and administrative burden of "workarounds" (employer-created benefit structures attempting to compensate for the discriminatory effects of DOMA), or leave the married workforce in separate cases.
Companies and other influential business figures are also joining campaigns for the freedom to marry in different ways.
Last week, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie donated $2.5 million to Washington United for Marriage in their efforts to uphold February's freedom to marry law. Washington United raises awareness of the importance of approving Referendum 74 so that the freedom to marry is not overturned.
Bill Gates and Steven A. Baller of Microsoft have additionally each given $100,000 to the campaign.
Freedom to Marry applauds and thanks these leaders of the corporate sector for realizing that supporting the freedom to marry isn't just the right thing to do - it also protects their employees and contributes to a stronger and more cohesive work environment.