Online Extra: Wedding Bells Ring: Same-sex marriage bans'costs outlined in report; Supreme Court urged
to take action
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Inconsistent marriage equality laws are costing American businesses $1.2 billion this year, according to a recently released report discussed at last week's Out and Equal Workplace Summit in San Francisco.
The expenses reflect what companies have to do to make sure their benefits policies and other guidelines are up to date as they work to attract LGBT employees.
"Employers find themselves in the challenging position of managing inconsistent policies, differential access to benefits, and burdensome tax calculations and compliance processes on behalf of employees in same-sex households. They must track legal changes state-by-state and month-by-month. ... Maintaining the patchwork quilt of marriage laws prolongs an unnecessary, multibillion dollar burden on the private sector," says the October report, entitled "The cost of inconsistency: quantifying the economic burden to American business from the patchwork quilt of marriage law."
About 50 people attended Thursday's panel at the Out and Equal summit at Moscone Center West, which started Monday, November 3 and ended November 6. Out and Equal works to achieve workplace equality for LGBTs.
During Thursday's session, news broke that in a 2-1 vote, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld a lower court's ruling banning same-sex marriage. The 6th Circuit, based in Cincinnati, oversees Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.
The judges' decision marked the first time a federal appeals court has sided with anti-gay activists since the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2013 ruling gutting the Defense of Marriage Act. That law prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
The Supreme Court declined last month to review appeals from states fighting to keep their discriminatory laws. The top court's decision allowed same-sex marriages to proceed in several states. However, now that there's disagreement among federal circuits as to whether marriage equality should be recognized, many think the Supreme Court will take up the issue.
Panelist Evan Wolfson, president of the national group Freedom to Marry, said, "We need America's businesses to be speaking out now."
Some in the audience asked about what the next steps should be, and Wolfson encouraged people to get their CEOs to sign on to friend of the court briefs as people prepare for the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.
Wolfson urged the country's top court to decide same-sex marriages are legal in all 50 states.
"We today are calling on the Supreme Court to do what it didn't do a month ago," and the justices need "to act, and fix this, and not drag it out," he said. He estimated court would hear arguments within the next year, and predicted the 6th Circuit ruling "will not stand the test of time or appeal."
Wolfson said regardless of what the justices decide, "the trajectory" is that marriage equality is moving forward, and the message to companies that don't support same-sex couples is "you're really on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the economy."
Tony Talbot, Out and Equal's chief financial officer, said people should be going to their companies and "making everyone aware of what [the] cost is" of having inconsistent laws across the country."
Report co-author Jerry Cacciotti, of the management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, said despite the "patchwork quilt of marriage laws," companies are striving to attract LGBT employees and by 2015, over half of all employers will offer benefits to same-sex couples. Through the extra financial burdens, those employers are punished for "doing the right thing," he said.
The problems pose special challenges to companies based in states that don't have marriage equality as they have to work harder to draw LGBT employee.
Same-sex marriages are recognized in 32 states, but that still leaves many couples without legal recognition.
Katie Kopansky, the report's other co-author, said people in Ohio have said, "It's a lot harder for us to get people to come out and work here."
The report, which is based on information including surveys of numerous corporations, is available at http://freemarry.3cdn.net/facad4cfca211bbb5c_8pm6bp6n4.pdf
LGBT Midwestern groups to meet
On the heels of the 6th Circuit's anti-same-sex marriage ruling, LGBT organizations in the Midwest are preparing for a conference this week to address judicial and political challenges.
The annual autumn Midwest Leadership Summit, planned for Thursday, November 13 through Friday, November 14 in Chicago, is being organized by Equality Illinois.
Besides the 6th Circuit ruling, the Midwestern gathering also follows other developments.
Last Wednesday, November 5, a judge in Missouri declared that state's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. A federal judge upheld that decision two days later.
But on Election Day Tuesday, November 4, several opponents of gay causes won victories in national elections.
"LGBT Midwesterners, our families, and allies still face a great deal of uncertainty about our basic rights as we live, travel, and conduct business throughout the region," Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, said in a statement. "In some states, it is still legal to discriminate against someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity."
The groups plan to make marriage equality across the country "a top priority," Equality Illinois' statement said, but organizers will also look at school safety, workplace equality, and other issues.
Wedding Bells Ring is an online column looking at various issues related to marriage equality in California and elsewhere. Please send column ideas or tips to Seth Hemmelgarn at email@example.com or call (415) 875-9986. Wedding Bells Ring appears every other Tuesday.