Marriage Equality Goes To The Supreme Court Once Again: Viacom Joins 378 Employers And Organizations In A Submission To The Court

by Daniel Mandil, Viacom Legal

Back in 2013, the Supreme Court considered whether a federal law called the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. DOMA said that, for purposes of federal benefits that go to married couples, only opposite-sex married couples were entitled to those benefits even if a same-sex couple had married in a state that recognized such marriages. Viacom and 277 other companies and organizations made a submission to the Court arguing that it was unfair to companies and their same-sex married employees to require that they be treated differently from opposite-sex married employees when it came to federal benefits relating to health insurance, protected leave, retirement and other things. In June of that year in a case called Windsor, the Court held that DOMA denied same-sex married couples equal protection under the law and so was unconstitutional. We were proud to have had a small part in making that decision possible.

But Windsor was only a decision about what the federal government could or couldn’t do. The Supreme Court decision left completely open whether the individual states could legally bar same-sex couples from marrying or could even refuse to recognize the marriage of a same-sex couple married in a state that allowed such marriages. Many states have such laws. In January of this year, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case concerning Ohio’s law that bars the recognition of same-sex marriages performed legally in other states. There are numerous couples involved in the case. Here are three examples:

James Obergefell and John Arthur were legally married in Maryland but resided in Ohio. When John died, James wanted John’s death certificate to show that John had been married. Ohio refused.

David Michener and William Ives were married in Delaware but resided in Ohio when William died. Because Ohio did not recognize David as William’s spouse, he was denied the right to decide how William’s remains should be tended to.

Nicole and Pam Yorksmith were married in California. Nicole gave birth to their son in Ohio. He was conceived through anonymous donor insemination (ADI). Under Ohio law, the spouse of the natural mother of a child conceived using ADI is deemed the other legal parent of the child. The spouse’s name therefore appears on the birth certificate. But because Ohio would not recognize the California marriage of Pam and Nicole, Pam is not legally the other parent of the boy. Should Nicole die, Pam does not have the comfort and security of knowing that she is her son’s other legal parent. And her son will not have that comfort and security either.

On March 5, Viacom joined 378 companies in another submission to the Supreme Court arguing that these state laws refusing to recognize same-sex marriages legally consummated in other states are unconstitutional. We argue that such laws place unreasonable and unfair burdens on employers who are forced to discriminate between their opposite-sex and same-sex married employees when it comes to the administration of state-created benefits.

Viacom is proud of our diverse and inclusive global workforce that reflects the rich character of our audiences, our partners and our employees. We diligently work towards enhancing our own policies that encourage diversity and equality, and believe that we have a role to play in supporting important efforts to expand these values across the country and around the world. Raising our voice in the Supreme Court is an important part of that role. We are proud to be part of this ever-growing chorus for equality.

A decision of the Supreme Court is expected in late June or very early July.

Daniel M. Mandil, SVP, Corporate Deputy General Counsel

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