Companies tell Supreme Court: Legalizing gay marriage is good for business

Some 379 companies filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the US Supreme Court on Thursday, hoping to influence a case that could legalize gay marriage nationwide.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
Gay rights advocate Vin Testa waves a rainbow flag in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, June 26, 2013. In 2015, thousands of businesses, religious groups, advocacy organizations, and politicians are filing legal briefs at the Supreme Court in support of gay marriage. The cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee will be argued April 28, and a decision is expected by early summer.

Hundreds of major US corporations threw support behind gay marriage rights in a briefing to the US Supreme Court Thursday.

Some 379 companies, including Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Bank of America, and the New England Patriots, filed an amicus curiae, or friend-of-the-court, brief with the high court. The companies hope to influence a case that is to determine whether states may limit marriage to its traditional definition as between one man and one woman, and whether states that do not recognize same-sex marriage must recognize marriages performed in parts of the country where it is legal.

The brief in the Obergefell v. Hodges case maintains that the lack of a uniform principle regarding same-sex marriage across all states hinders the ability of businesses to attract and retain qualified employees.

"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. Our successes depend upon the welfare and morale of all employees, without distinction," read the brief, which was filed by the law firm Morgan Lewis.

The brief is the latest example of private companies offering same-sex couples public support in the legal battle over gay marriage. Technology companies have been especially insistent that it is difficult to hire the best candidates when the state where the company is based discriminates against same-sex couples. 

Microsoft poured resources and energy into the campaign to legalize gay marriage in the state of Washington, which eventually legalized same-sex marriage in December 2012. 

“At Microsoft, we pride ourselves on our products and services, our brand, and our global reach. But unquestionably, our employees are our greatest asset," Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith wrote in "The Official Microsoft Blog" in January 2012. "As other states recognize marriage equality, Washington's employers are at a disadvantage if we cannot offer a similar, inclusive environment to our talented employees, our top recruits and their families.”

In 2013, many companies came out in support of the Supreme Court’s decision to essentially overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.

Goldman Sachs, for example, tweeted a message that gay marriage would help build a stronger economy, according Business Insider. A picture of a rainbow flag next to an American flag accompanied the tweet.

"Apple strongly supports marriage equality and we consider it a civil rights issue. We applaud the Supreme Court for its decisions today,” the company wrote in a statement at the time.

Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook, who later publicly came out as gay, has also called on his home state of Alabama to support same-sex marriage. 

But some critics say that the companies’ claim that same-sex marriage is good for business may be exaggerated.

“The effect of expanding the legal definition of marriage to include same sex-couples, is to immediately expand the number of people to whom expensive health insurance benefits are entitled.... [I]t will cost them substantially more to be forced to pay an additional dependent’s health care benefits during the whole period in which they are employed by Microsoft,” wrote Jerry Bowyer for Forbes in 2013.

However, the new brief cites evidence that diversity and inclusion can be beneficial to the workplace. Furthermore, disparities between state laws create uncertainty and stress for employees and wasteful administrative burdens for businesses, the companies argue.

Some independent analysts agree with their assessment.

“Companies who create an environment where employees are free to be authentically and completely who they are have more engaged employees, and that translates into client and customer satisfaction,” John Taft, CEO of RBC Wealth Management USA, told Yahoo.

Currently, same-sex couples can be legally married in 36 states, not including Alabama, where legal battles regarding same-sex marriage are ongoing.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on April 28 in a hearing that could potentially legalize gay marriage nationwide. A decision is expected by early summer.

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