The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has been on the radar this week in light of the U.S. Supreme Court arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry (oral argument), and in United States v. Windsor (oral argument).

The litigation in each of these cases is legally and procedurally complex, but suffice it to say that a ruling on the merits in each of these cases could have a significant impact to manufacturers  because DOMA has a varying impact on numerous federal laws. 

In particular, under consideration in United States v. Windsor, is whether Section 3 of DOMA – which defines the term “marriage” as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife,” and “spouse” as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife” – violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws as applied to persons of the same sex who are legally married under the laws of their state.  

Several leading national business, nonprofit and municipal employers filed an amicus brief in support of the challenge in this case because DOMA forces companies to put its lawfully-married employees into two categories thus creating numerous tax, regulatory, benefits, and ultimately, morale problems.  The amicus brief argues that DOMA requires companies to treat employees married to someone of the same sex and those married to someone of a different sex unequally in terms of spousal benefits, and that the law strains business efficiency and damages morale:

…For many employers, DOMA does violence to the morale of the institution itself. Like other persons, legal and natural, amici are motivated by core principles. As of December 2012, 88% of Fortune 500 companies provided nondiscrimination protection for their gay and lesbian employees. …These principles spring from hard experience. Our organizations are engaged in national and international competition -— for talent, customers, and business. That competition demands teamwork, and teamwork thrives when the organization minimizes distracting differences, and focuses on a common mission. DOMA’s core mandate -— that we single out some of our married colleagues and treat them as a lesser class —- upsets this imperative.

There are certainly differing opinions on this issue, including how the U.S. Supreme Court will decide the case.  The decision is expected in June and, if there is a ruling on the merits, it could take effect immediately.  Manufacturers may wish to consider consulting with legal counsel now to determine how their businesses may be impacted.