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Disney Signs Open Letter Advocating for Federal Same-Sex Marriage Rights

The letter urges the Senate to pass the pro-LGBT Respect for Marriage Act

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An LGTBQ solidarity rally in New York City, photo by Mathias Waski
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    Disney has a lot of work to do to scrub their reputation clean after they reportedly donated to every sponsor of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill earlier this year. Next up on the company’s agenda, according to The Hollywood Reporter, is signing an open letter in support of codifying some same-sex marriage rights into federal law.

    The open letter is spearheaded by the Human Rights Campaign, and Disney is just one in the handful of Hollywood studios taking part. With more than 170 signatories representing more than 5.3 million employees, the letter urges the US Senate to pass the Respect for Marriage Act.

    “Americans from all walks of life, across demographics, geographies, and party lines agree that loving, committed couples have the right to be respected and protected under the law,” the letter reads. “As many of us highlighted in our support for Marriage Equality in 2015, a patchwork of inconsistent and discriminatory state marriage laws goes against our company values and makes it harder for us to do business and to recruit and retain top talent.”

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    Officially named H.R. 8404 in the House and S. 4556 in the Senate, the Respect for Marriage Act would repeal the entirety of Defense of Marriage Act; passed in 1996, DOMA prevented the federal government from acknowledging same-sex couples married under state law in more than 1,000 contexts, like immigration purposes or extending benefits to spouses of military personnel. DOMA also specified that states were under no legal obligation to recognize same-sex marriages that were performed in other states.

    Disney joins other major companies including Sony, Comcast NBCUniversal, and Apple in their support of the pro-LGBTQ+ rights bill, which the ACLU has already dubbed “the most pro-LGBTQ vote” in Congress. “Codifying a consistent and inclusive federal standard…will help to ensure marriage equality, eliminate confusion for employers and enable us to retain and attract talent,” the letter goes on. “No person, including same-sex couples and interracial couples protected by this bill, should fear their marriage will not be recognized by the federal government or their employment benefits threatened.”

    In the 2013 Supreme Court case United States v. Windsor, SCOTUS finally nixed the federal recognition element of DOMA, meaning same-gender couples had access to benefits like Social Security, equitable tax treatment, or sponsoring of a spouse for citizenship. However, upon the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion implied SCOTUS might try overturning rulings about gay marriage, too.

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    The Respect for Marriage Act seeks to protect many of the federal marriage rights established through Windsor for existing marriages, it doesn’t cover all the rights established by 2015’s landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges, which guarantees same-gender couples the federal right to marry. If that case is overturned, states could bar same-gender couples from marrying.

    “Codifying a consistent and inclusive federal standard conferred by the Loving, Windsor, and Obergefell rulings will help to ensure marriage equality, eliminate confusion for employers and enable us to retain and attract talent,” the letter continues. “No person, including same-sex couples and interracial couples protected by this bill, should fear their marriage will not be recognized by the federal government or their employment benefits threatened.”

    Disney has had to do quite a bit of damage control this year in the midst of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill controversy: They pledged a $5 million donation to the Human Rights Campaign, which the advocacy group refused to accept. Then, after a group of Pixar animators wrote open letter accusing the company of censoring same-sex affection from their films, they restored a brief same-sex kiss that had reportedly been cut from Lightyear. However, Disney also just recently announced that they’d allow political advertisements on Hulu — which is bound to open up a whole other can of worms.

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