* Court will hear cases in late March, rule by June
* Business community's filing seen as unprecedented
By Lawrence Hurley and Aruna Viswanatha
WASHINGTON, Feb 27 More than 200 businesses on
Wednesday urged the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a federal
law that restricts the definition of marriage to heterosexual
unions, in one of corporate America's most prominent efforts to
support same-sex marriage.
The companies signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief in
Windsor v. United States, a high-profile case challenging the
1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). They ranged from
technology giants Microsoft Corp and Google Inc
to Wall Street financiers such as Citigroup Inc
and Goldman Sachs Group Inc to vineyards and yogurt
makers in California.
Thomson Reuters Corp, which owns the Reuters news
agency, also supported the submission.
The companies want the Supreme Court to void a key provision
in the federal law that defines marriage as a union between a
man and a woman. They largely stayed away from constitutional
arguments attacking the law and instead focused on the business
nuisance the law created.
DOMA forces employers to treat employees with same-sex
spouses differently from those with opposite-sex partners, the
companies said, depriving gay employees of certain healthcare
and retirement benefits that may be on offer. The law also
creates headaches for human resources officials, they said.
"HR departments would tell you it is a disaster trying to
deal with DOMA when you are a large employer, because you have
these employees who are legally married, but now you've got to
put them in a different box for W-2s, for ERISA (Employee
Retirement Income Security Act), for retirement benefits, and
it's really vexing," said Sabin Willett in an interview. Willett
wrote the brief for his law firm, Bingham McCutchen, which
handled the matter pro bono.
Separately, lawyers representing another group of employers,
including some of the same companies, said they planned to file
a brief on Thursday in a related case that questions a
California law, known as Proposition 8, banning gay marriage.
The two cases are to be argued before the Supreme Court on
March 26 and 27. A decision is expected by the end of June.
While corporate America has long offered domestic
partnership benefits and made efforts to attract gay employees,
the filing seemed to represent a new step in an effort to
promote the issue.
"It is old news that big business is friendly to lesbian and
gay unions," said Yale law professor William Eskridge, who has
argued on behalf of gay rights. "But there has never been a
business brief quite like this one with so many signatories on
such a landmark issue," he said.
A group of prominent Republicans, including former advisers
to President George W. Bush, are also expected to file a brief
challenging the California law, adding heft to backers of gay
The arguments appeared directed at Justice Anthony Kennedy,
as a moderate and potential swing vote, to show the kind of wide
support that exists, Eskridge said.
The brief grew out of a previous effort to represent
business interests in another case challenging the DOMA law,
according to Willett.
That case brought together some 70 companies that felt
courts may not have understood the full business impact of the
"When people talk about DOMA, they usually, and rightly so,
focus on its impact upon human beings ... but people may not
realize, and courts may not realize, this thing is hurting
business, too," Willett said.
In the brief filed on Wednesday, the companies argued that
DOMA "requires that employers treat one employee differently
from another, when each is married, and each marriage is equally
DOMA does not create any uniformity nationwide, they said,
because 12 states either authorize same-sex marriage or
recognize marriages that have been performed in other states.
That creates a burden for employers, particularly those who
do business nationally, they added.
The law also forces companies to discriminate, sometimes in
contravention of their own internal policies and local laws,
when dealing with healthcare plans and other benefits, the
In briefs already filed in support of restricting marriage
to heterosexual unions, business interests have not been
represented. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has not taken a stand
on the issue.