by Nicole G. Berner, Associate General Counsel of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Counsel of Record in Labor Movement Briefs filed in Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor & Elena Medina, SEIU Law Fellow. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on Hollingsworth v. Perry and U.S. v. Windsor.
A broad coalition of labor unions, representing more than 20 million American workers, and the interests of working people more broadly, filed amicus curiae briefs in support of the respondents in the Supreme Court challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8. Both cases will come before the Court for oral argument next week. The briefs, the only to outline specifically the economic damages of these laws, advocate for the right of all working people to fair and equal treatment in the workplace, and for the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers to receive the same employment benefits and protections as their heterosexual co-workers.
Marital status plays a key role in determining eligibility for-- and taxation of -- a myriad of workplace benefits and protections. These benefits, together with state and federal programs for working people and their families, form the safety net upon which most Americans rely for retirement and financial assistance in the event of illness, injury, disability or death. They are particularly crucial for families in which only one adult works outside of the home or is eligible for employer-provided benefits. Laws codifying marriage discrimination, such as DOMA and Proposition 8, largely deprive LGBT workers of access to these benefits and protections and thereby perpetuate a two-tiered workforce in which LGBT workers are treated inferior to their heterosexual counterparts and unfairly relegated to a lower stratum of economic security.
Health Care Benefits. Employer-provided health care provides the most common source of medical coverage for working Americans and their families. But for same-sex couples, DOMA and Proposition 8 create a litany of impediments that complicate, penalize or flatly prohibit full family coverage. Without equal access to employer-provided spousal health care benefits, some non-covered same-sex partners are forced to rely on coverage available through public assistance or to go without health insurance entirely. Even for workers whose employers extend coverage to gay and lesbian spouses or who can afford to purchase private insurance for the non-covered spouse, DOMA and Proposition 8 deny access to tax benefits and raise health care costs for same-sex couples significantly, forcing such couples to pay thousands of dollars more on healthcare each year.