Why Corporate America Led Battle to End DOMA

June 26, 2013 3:17 pm

By Barbara Frankel

Why Corporate America Led Battle to End DOMA

Photo by Shutterstock

As they did in other major civil-rights battles, several corporations fiercely advocated for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Earlier this year, the Human Rights Campaign started a Business Coalition for DOMA Repeal. The list of corporate supporters includes five companies on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity or the DiversityInc 25 Noteworthy Companies lists. They are: MassMutual, Prudential Financial, Marriott International, Aetna and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The business case for corporate support of inclusion and legal equality has been demonstrated by these and other DiversityInc Top 50 companies—increased recruitment, retention and promotion of talented people from underrepresented groups and direct connections with an increasingly diverse marketplace.

MassMutual has been a vocal supporter of LGBT inclusion and signed on immediately to the coalition. “It was not a decision to support one community over another. For MassMutual and all of the [22] employers that signed on, the idea is to be as inclusive and diverse as possible,” said Bernadette Harrigan, Assistant Vice President and Counsel, MassMutual Law Department.

The reasons for supporting the end of DOMA were very clear to the insurance company. From an employee perspective, DOMA required companies to have different rules for federal tax benefits and Family and Medical Leave Act requirements. That often meant financial set-asides and legal risks as companies tried to be equitable to their employees.

“Under DOMA, we were basically forced to treat employees differently—the same employees who we say we will not discriminate against under our company policies,” said Mark Roellig, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, MassMutual. “We had to keep separate sets of books and to continually adjust them, all while picking up the potential legal risk, if we made a mistake, so there were ongoing administrative costs that were pretty significant.”

MassMutual sells life insurance and annuities. Harrigan said DOMA also negatively impacted lesbian and gay customers who might buy certain products, such as long-term-care benefits, which offer better options for legal spouses.

At Prudential Financial, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Michele C. Meyer-Shipp noted the impact DOMA’s repeal will have on current and potential customers.

“The LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] market is huge and growing. This is a business opportunity for us,” she said.

Meyer-Shipp cited Prudential’s recent survey, “The LGBT Financial Experience,” which showed median LGBT household income is $61,500 versus $50,000 for the average American household. “This is a segment we need to be tapping into to hire as well,” she said.

Harrigan also noted that having been a corporate supporter of the repeal of DOMA would make MassMutual and other companies an “employer of choice” for LGBT people and their allies.

History of Inclusion

Other companies have also supported LGBT rights, mostly around DOMA. Companies that signed on to amicus briefs to strike down both DOMA and Proposition 8 included Ernst & Young, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, New York Life, The Walt Disney Company, Microsoft and Boehringer Ingelheim. Other companies have supported ENDA, the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, including Kaiser Permanente, Ernst & Young, Accenture, Merck & Co., KPMG, IBM, Pfizer, BASF, Time Warner, Dell, The Coca-Cola Company, Capital One and KeyCorp.