Analysis on SCOTUS DOMA Ruling from Viacom Legal

by Daniel Mandil, Viacom Legal

Today’s Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as an unconstitutional deprivation of the equal liberty of all persons guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment is welcome and gratifying for our company – it’s the result we hoped for and worked to achieve. We’re very pleased that Viacom could play a role in ensuring that all Americans who marry have equal rights under the law.  Our core values embrace a deep respect for diversity and inclusion, which includes the position we took in Windsor: if state law permits same-sex marriages, the federal government has no business impeding the rights and entitlements of such couples.  As Viacom and 277 other employers said in the amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court:

Amici are employers or associations of employers, and we share a desire to attract, retain, and secure a talented workforce. We are located in or operate in states that recognize marriages of certain of our employees and colleagues to spouses of the same sex. .  . .  [DOMA] precludes federal recognition of these marriages. This dual regime uniquely burdens amici. It puts us, as employers, to unnecessary cost and administrative complexity, and regardless of our business or professional judgment forces us to treat one class of our lawfully married employees differently than another, when our success depends upon the welfare and morale of all employees.”

The Supreme Court ruling rejects and remedies this discrimination, holding that the Constitution requires the federal government to respect and accept each state’s determination of what a legal marriage is, including those twelve states, the District of Columbia and three federally recognized Native American tribes where same-sex marriage is permitted under law.

As Justice Kennedy wrote in his opinion for the Court’s majority:

“[T]he Federal Government, throughout our history, has deferred to state-law policy decisions with respect to domestic relations. . . . Against this background DOMA rejects the long-established precept that the incidents, benefits, and obligations of marriage are uniform for all married couples within each State, though they may vary, subject to constitutional guarantees, from one State to the next. . . . Here the State’s decision to give this class of persons the right to marry conferred upon them a dignity and status of immense import. When the State used its historic and essential authority to define the marital relation in this way, its role and its power in making the decision enhanced the recognition, dignity, and protection of the class in their own community. DOMA, because of its reach and extent, departs from this history and tradition of reliance on state law to define marriage. ‘[D]iscriminations of an unusual character especially suggest careful consideration to determine whether they are obnoxious to the constitutional provision.’”

The Court thus concluded:

“DOMA seeks to injure the very class New York seeks to protect. By doing so it violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government.  . . . The Constitution’s guarantee of equality ‘must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot’ justify disparate treatment of that group. . . . DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state-sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects . . . and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.”

We are pleased by today’s Supreme Court decisions and couldn’t be prouder to have participated as amicus both in this case and in a related Court of Appeals case.  We commend for their outstanding advocacy the lawyers at Bingham McCutchen LLP who led the amicus initiative for the employers brief, as well as those at Paul Weiss and the Solicitor General’s office who argued for DOMA’s unconstitutionality.  Of course, the fight continues.  Today’s rulings return marriage law decisions to the states, where Viacom will continue to actively support marriage equality for the LGBT community.

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