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Business and gay rights: From Stonewall to payroll

March 20, 2013

TO CHEERS from gay-rights activists, Barack Obama has finally accepted that their fight belongs in the pantheon of American civil-rights struggles. Many employers have found a more prosaic reason to lend their backing to same-sex marriage: dealing with discriminatory laws is an administrative drag.Section 3 of the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed by Bill Clinton in 1996, says that for federal purposes only heterosexual unions count as marriage. This bars gay couples from over 1,100 federal benefits, such as inheritance-tax relief or the right to file joint tax returns. But two appeals courts have struck down section 3, and on March 27th the case reaches the Supreme Court. Last week 278 employers, including Deutsche Bank and Microsoft, signed an ?amicus? brief urging the nine justices to scrap the law.The problem is that nine states (plus Washington, DC) allow gay marriage, and three others recognise gay unions solemnised elsewhere. This conflict between federal and state law creates all sorts of headaches, such as separate payroll systems and differing tax treatment of health-care benefits. ?Even sophisticated employers struggle,? the brief says.Employees suffer, too. Hard data are scarce, but a 2007 study found that under DOMA the average married gay worker paid over $1,000 more a year in taxes than a married straight worker receiving the same workplace benefits....

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