After weeks of anxious waiting by LGBT-rights advocates, U.S. Supreme Court justices declared that they will weigh in on the growing same-gender marriage debate. The court announced on Friday afternoon that it will hear two cases that have challenged the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California's Proposition 8 legislation, both of which defined legal marriage as only between a man and a woman.
The outcome of these two major cases could have a sweeping impact on the definition of marriage in the United States and on same-gender couples' right to wed.
"The nation's high court has agreed to consider one of the most defining civil-rights issues of our time. ... The DOMA and Prop 8 cases present the Supreme Court with a monumental opportunity to affirm our Constitution's promises of liberty, equality and human dignity," says Rea Carey, executive director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
The announcement follows sweeping changes in public attitudes toward these unions—49 percent of Americans now agree that states should allow same-sex marriage, according to a Pew Research Center poll, compared with 39 percent in 2008.
"The recent election signaled just how far we've come on the path toward treating all families fairly, with landmark statewide victories affirming the right of loving, committed same-sex couples to share in the celebration and responsibilities of marriage," says Carey. "This long road to the high court has been filled with thousands of personal conversations about why marriage matters to us, and of how discrimination hurts our families."
DOMA: Discrimination Against LGBTs
Legal experts had anticipated that the Defense of Marriage Act would be the most likely to be heard by the Supreme Court. DOMA, which originally was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, was struck down this year by two federal appeals courts: Boston in June and New York in October. The law prevents the government from recognizing any same-sex marriage, even if a state's law provides for it. Windsor v. United States challenges the law, saying it amounts to discrimination against LGBTs in those states that allow same-gender marriages.
If the Supreme Court agrees with the appeals courts, same-gender couples in states that recognize same-gender marriage would be recognized equally under the law and qualify for federal marriage benefits, tax breaks and Social Security survivor benefits.
What Is Proposition 8?
Proposition 8 is a same-gender marriage ban in California that was voted into law in 2008—just months after the California Supreme Court had struck it down. This left thousands of California same-gender couples legally married while preventing others from doing so. Since then, Proposition 8 has been struck down by two federal courts as unconstitutional.
LGBT: How Many States Recognize Same-Gender Marriage?
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 15.8 percent of Americans now live in states that support marriage equality. If California's Proposition 8 is struck down, that number will jump to 27.9 percent.
Currently nine states recognize same-gender marriages: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Iowa and Washington, plus the District of Columbia. Rights for same-gender couples are recognized in Oregon, California, Nevada, Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Delaware and Hawaii. For more facts on the LGBT population and states' laws regarding same-gender marriage, please read our LGBT Pride Facts & Figures.
Many of the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies proactively provide additional benefits and services for same-gender couples, both employees and customers. For example, Wells Fargo (No. 33 in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity) launched an Accredited Domestic Partner Advisor program, which the company presented at our Innovation Fest!, to specifically help LGBT clients with their unique financial situations. Watch the video below.
All of the companies on the DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for LGBT Employees received 100 percent ratings on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. These are among the 38 total DiversityInc Top 50 companies that earned a 100 percent rating.