Ruling Against Defense of Marriage Act Is Major Diversity Victory

The federal court decision striking down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a major civil-rights victory for advocates supporting diversity and inclusion. With President Obama and more leaders of the Black community on board, marriage equality is gaining momentum rapidly.

Diversity and inclusion advocates are celebrating a major legal victory in the civil-rights battle of this century on marriage equality. A Boston federal court determined that portions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) are unconstitutional, bringing the case to the Supreme Court and the strong possibility that the law will be permanently overturned.


The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, in a unanimous and bipartisan decision, ruled that the federal law defining legal marriage as only between a man and a woman deprives same-sex couples of the same rights heterosexual couples have when receiving federal benefits, including filing joint federal tax returns.

The court did not address the controversial issue of whether states that have not approved same-sex marriages must recognize them.

Read history and facts about DOMA from the Human Rights Campaign.

Obama & Black Community Support

The momentum on this issue shifted dramatically last month when President Barack Obama finally publicly declared his support of same-sex marriage. To further support that announcement, the Justice Department did not intercede in the Boston decision in favor of DOMA, as it has done in the past.

What's important in the days since Obama's declaration is the growing support of same-sex marriage in the Black community. The NAACP, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other Black leaders have come out in support of marriage equality.

"I'm particularly heartened by the announcement from the NAACP. There's a new realization that we're all in this together and that nobody should be discriminated against," says retired U.S. Navy Captain Joan Darrah, a former board member of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Darrah was a leader in the fight to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the military and is part of a continuing legal battle to give partners of gay and lesbian service members equal military benefits.

Darrah sees the momentum shifting on the federal level, although she thinks it could be a long battle to get some states—including Virginia, where she lives with her partner—to change.

Creating an Inclusive Culture

If your organization isn't supportive of equality for everyone, here are some tips garnered from the DiversityInc Top 50 on how to build an inclusive workplace.

  • Require cultural-competence diversity training. Mandatory training that includes factual, educational information on LGBT groups is a must. Eighty-six percent of The 2012 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity now require diversity training for their managers, compared with 78 percent five years ago. Sixty-eight percent require diversity training for their entire workforces, compared with 58 percent five years ago. Read DiversityInc's LGBT Pride Facts & Figures, which you can use for educational purposes. Click here information on our diversity-training courses.
  • Use your resource groups to create more inclusive workplaces. Your LGBT resource group is a great start. Make sure its name includes the word "friends," "allies" or "straight" so people who are not LGBT or are not out are comfortable joining. Ensure that members of this resource group are included in prominent roles in company events and publications, that they meet frequently with senior leaders, and that they set up company-wide educational programs. Read Our Analysis of the HRC's Corporate Equality Index.
  • Maintain a "no-tolerance-for-bigotry" policy for everyone. Core diversity-management values are essential to an organization, emanating from the very top. Those values must include an absolute adherence to diversity and inclusion for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religious background, disability and, especially, orientation. Read Diversity Management 101 and The Four Stages of Diversity Management.

--Barbara Frankel

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