As the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the legality of gay marriage bans on April 28, same sex marriage proponents just gained a hugely influential supporter: Big Business.
Thursday, 379 of the largest companies and and staffers of American employees all signed onto a "friend-to-the-court" brief in support of gay marriage, including major names like Google, Goldman Sachs, and American Airlines. The Huffington Post has the complete list here.
"State laws that prohibit or decline to recognize marriages between same-sex couples hamper employer efforts to recruit and retain the most talented workforce possible in those states, the brief reads. "Our successes depend upon the welfare and morale of all employees, without distinction."
The brief in Obergefell v. Hodges argues that without a federal policy on gay marriage, employers and their employees suffer in a state of legal limbo. It also highlights the benefits of increased diversity in their respective workplaces.
The nine Supreme Court justices will be tasked with determining if states have the legal authority to ban same-sex marriage. They will hear an extended two-and-a-half hour oral argument over the legality of these bans that have been put into place in by state governments in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
In November, the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which is the federal appellate court for the above mentioned states upheld these states’ same-sex marriage bans. On Thursday, the US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit upheld Nebraska’s same-sex marriage ban, and set May 12 as the date to hear appeal arguments against gay marriage bans in Arkansas, Missouri and South Dakota, in addition to Nebraska, according to media reports. Arkansas, Missouri, and South Dakota also had their bans struck down in federal court. Arkansas and Missouri have since filed appeals to uphold bans.
Having businesses united behind an issue has changed government policy in the past. One major example of this was the divestment movement from apartheid-era South Africa. From 1985 to 1990, more than 200 American companies cut all ties with the country, which resulted in a $1 billion loss of direct American foreign investment for the pro-apartheid South African regime, according to Investopedia.com.
The divestment movement started on college campuses, following Hampshire College's lead and by 1988, 155 colleges and universities combined had fully or partially divested from South Africa.
Though the colleges alone could not bring down apartheid, once the movement picked up steam, companies began dumping their stock holdings in South African firms and many pension funds divested from their South African assets. After growing pressure, Congress passed a series of economic sanctions against South Africa, which President Reagan vetoed initially. His veto was later overridden when the bill went back to Congress.
Though legalizing same-sex marriage on a Federal level and ending Apartheid are not perfect comparisons, both cases serve to illustrate that united economic pressure on the part of major industry at the right time can help end a discriminatory policy. The range of industries who co-signed the brief to the Supreme Court include the nation's largest banks, food giants like General Mills, professional sports teams like the New England Patriots, and the small mom and pop bakeries.