AFL-CIO backs marriage equality

For a more just United States of America

On Wednesday, President Obama made history when he became the first sitting U.S. President to support marriage equality for same-sex couples, telling ABC News Robin Roberts “at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

OBAMA: I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.

AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka issued the following statement:

TRUMKA: Working people believe in equality and fairness and that’s why we are happy to stand with millions of Americans and with President Obama in supporting marriage equality.

LGBT working people face numerous inequities in the workplace and in society as they struggle to care for their families. Civil unions do not guarantee the 1,138 rights, benefits and responsibilities that are triggered by the word “marriage” under federal law.

Most important, we should respect and honor our friends, neighbors, and family members who want to take care of their families and their loved ones – whatever their sexual orientation. We are proud to come together for a more just America.

Larry Cohen, president of the Communication Workers of America, which represents thousands of employees at AT&T and US Airways, said CWA will stand with the President and all those who support equality and human rights:

COHEN: We oppose all discrimination and recognize the direct linkage between civil and workers’ rights, and the attempts to divide Americans based on these issues.

Nearly ten years ago, CWA convention delegates called for full and equal rights including civil marriage, pointing out that far too many benefits and protections of civil marriage are denied to people on the basis of sexual orientation. These often include health care and survivor benefits as well as other legal rights for partners. It’s time to move forward.

Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents workers at Smithfield in Tar Heel, NC and chemical workers in Hickory, said UFCW commended, “President Obama for his support of marriage equality, and I’m proud to support him as he takes this historic stand for equality”:

HANSEN: Marriage equality is an economic justice issue, and a social justice issue – and that makes it a union issue.

In the UFCW, we have a long, proud history of standing up for fair and equal treatment for all workers – regardless of what they look like, where they come from, what language they speak, or who they love. These values are heartfelt. We work every day to fight discrimination and unfair treatment against LGBT people on the job. That’s why our union is a strong supporter of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which would ensure justice in the workplace for LGBT workers. UFCW members have been negotiating equal health care coverage for same-sex couples into their union contracts all over the country for years. It’s the right thing to do, and the fair thing to do. I’m proud that the UFCW’s advocacy on behalf of families includes all families.

Mary K. Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents members of the State Employees Association of North Carolina as well as members of Workers United, said “The President understands what we do – marriage equality is about family, community, love and justice”:

HENRY: Across this country, right-wing Republican politicians are seeking to divide us with attacks on immigrants, the middle class, women’s health, the environment and the LGBT community – but the growing numbers of Americans who believe in marriage equality reminds us that we cannot live up to our promise as a nation until we extend equal rights to all.

To those who have chosen to stand on the wrong side of history, we say this: There is growing momentum for equality in this country. And with each American that believes in equality, we are reminded that the continued dream of equality is our birthright, our heritage and our promise.

For anyone who counts equality among the basic tenets of a free and just America, Pres. Obama’s announcement today is a victory.

AFSCME and the American Federation of Teachers also issued statements of support for President Obama’s “coming out” on marriage equality.

An issue for working families

The labor movement has a long, proud history of standing up for fair and equal treatment for all workers.

Marriage equality is a union issue, an economic justice issue, and a social justice issue.

Same-sex couples take a financial hit because their relationships aren’t recognized under federal law; they have less ability to care for and support their families in times of need; and it is a social justice issue, in recognizing equality for LGBT people.

As the Massachusetts state supreme court found in 2004, addressing the disparities between civil union and civil marriage, “Separate is seldom, if ever, equal.”

Federal laws grant 1,138 rights, benefits and responsibilities triggered by the word “marriage”. Many people may be unaware that same-sex couples receive disparate rights and benefits under current law – both because of lack of marriage rights at the state level, but also because of the federal DOMA or so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

Regardless of state laws, the federal DOMA means that same-sex couples are denied:

  • Pension benefits for their surviving spouse/partner
  • Social security survivor benefits
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or bereavement leave for their same-sex partner
  • The right to sponsor their spouse / partner for immigration

State DOMA laws have also been used to undermine collective bargaining, such as in Michigan when the DOMA law was used to try to bar fairly-negotiated domestic partner benefits. (“Designated beneficiary” language is now often used to eliminate or at least limit the DOMA issues.)

In addition, same-sex couples must pay federal taxes on health care benefits for their spouse or domestic partner – because their relationships are not recognized under federal law. So even in states with marriage equality, those couples may file jointly at the state level and then must file as individuals at the federal level.

No marriage equality in North Carolina

On Tuesday, voters in North Carolina approved an amendment to the state constitution that makes “the marriage of one man and one woman the only domestic legal union” recognized as valid here [emphasis added] – no civil unions, no domestic partnerships.

The broad and vague language of the amendment actually takes away the rights of not only same-sex couples but every unmarried couple in our state. These couples are now, actually, strangers in the eyes of the law.

County commissioners in Mecklenburg are already moving to rescind health care and other domestic partner benefits to unmarried county employees and their children. Mecklenburg is just one of several municipal governments that have extended such benefits to unmarried couples.