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Why Marriage Equality Matters to America's Unions and Working Families

Photo courtesy of Pride at Work's Facebook page.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments in cases that could lead to marriage equality for same-sex couples, an issue of particular importance to working families and America's union members. 

"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," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement. "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. For example, federal employees who are AFGE members are prohibited from negotiating domestic partner benefits because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The AFL-CIO, along with the National Education Association (NEA) and Change to Win, filed amicus briefs challenging the constitutionality of California's Prop. 8 and DOMA in the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Read the entire amicus briefs here and here

Craig Becker, AFL-CIO general counsel, says the amicus briefs in the two cases highlight the extraordinary shift in public attitudes and the firm consensus that the constitutional commitment to equality extends to same-sex couples. 

The failure to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples injures working Americans in countless ways from their tax bills to their access to health benefits.

Pride At Work, a constituency group of the AFL-CIO, points out same-sex couples take a unique financial hit because their relationships aren't recognized under federal law because of DOMA, so they have less ability to care for and support their families in times of need. 

The right to equal pay and benefits for equal work is a fundamental component of labor struggles, as is the ability to work and support one’s family with dignity and respect.

Economic and social equality have always been priorities for the union movement. In 2005, the AFL-CIO Executive Council released the following statement: Support for the Full Inclusion and Equal Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People in the Workplace.

We believe that all union members are entitled to equal rights and that all of their families should have access to benefits they need and deserve. The AFL-CIO is dedicated to fighting for those rights at the bargaining table, in the voting booth, in city halls and statehouses and on Capitol Hill. 

The AFL-CIO recognizes that families come in all shapes and sizes. As our families change, our union contracts also change. For more than a generation, unions have negotiated domestic partner benefits for the workers they represent, which provide crucial access to health care, family and medical leave and other benefits for our heterosexual families and seniors, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families.

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