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For many same-sex couples this summer, wedding planning in New York State has been a legal affair. On Sunday, the Empire State became the sixth state in the U.S. to proffer marriage licenses to gay couples. The hundreds of ensuing nuptials involved not months of choosing caterers and debating band-versus-DJ, but instead were the product of a rather heady legislative process. The legal underpinnings of same-sex marriage will continue to affect businesses and people—especially as Congress begins to discuss a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 federal law that officially defines marriage as between a man and a woman. On both a personal and professional level, marriage equality has meant a great deal to Nancy Louden, senior vice president and deputy general counsel of The Estée Lauder Companies, where she has worked for 18 years. Louden didn’t wait for legalization to come to New York—she married her wife in Massachusetts two-and-a-half years ago, after it became allowed under Bay State law. Below is an edited conversation with CorpCounsel.com in which she discusses some of the things companies need to think about in light of New York’s new law. CorpCounsel: What does the legalization of same-sex marriage mean for companies that operate in New York State? Nancy Louden: In-house counsel, human resources departments, and general management in companies—whether they’re large or small—need to be thoughtful about the best ways of recognizing the rights of employees who are benefiting from marriage in New York State or other states. It comes down to respect and fairness. The more respectfully you can treat people—or do treat people—the more productive and satisfied an employee you have. That’s good both for the people involved and for the business. On the benefits front, there’s a lot to think about. One of the topics that’s been written about a lot in the last few weeks in New York State is whether major employers will drop their domestic-partnership status, which could affect medical benefits and other benefits companies have chosen to offer. Taking the time to do things right and go slowly is probably the best advice for companies. There could be some very good reasons why someone chooses to remain in a domestic partnership rather than get married. There are immigration-law questions, adoption questions, and other important legal factors that could cause them to say, ‘Until the federal status changes, I better leave it this way.’ CC: On a personal note, what has the decision to marry in Massachusetts meant for you and your partner? NL: My partner —the ‘w’ word is something I still trip over—but my partner, then of 10 years, and I had become mothers. Our son is now four. And when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts opened the doors a second time—arranging and providing for marriage equality—we jumped at it. Many of our friends had chosen to wait for New York, but being the mother of a little guy, that was one of the many factors that came into play. It was a very, very joyous occasion, and we don’t have any regrets about having taken the step there. Words matter. And while the states, and the District of Columbia, that have provided marriage equality have taken a huge move forward, it’s still not a perfect arrangement. But I’m both hopeful and confident that fairness and love will win the day, and that it will just be a matter of time before we see other states and the federal government embracing marriage equality. CC: Did your decision to marry make you think more about how words matter at the corporate level? NL: I’m very fortunate. The reason I’ve stayed at Estée Lauder for 18 years is that it’s a fabulous company. Its people values are just terrific. The creativity of its employees and the ability of the employees to give their best is very important. The Lauder Companies first provided domestic-partner benefits in 1998 and have taken a very broad approach toward committed relationships between same-sex partners. While the word ‘married’ wasn’t there, I’ve had the great fortune to work in a place where I felt valued, and where my relationships have felt valued. However, this is now a time when even companies that have been trying very hard to do the right thing should take a fresh look at decisions that were made through the years. Because of federal limitations there are still many considerations for employers who are committed to fair treatment. CC: What else should companies consider? NL: Various human resources forms and other documents may need to be modified. On the social level, if companies have bulletin boards or newsletters or other ways of conveying personal news, of course they should welcome including same-sex marriages, but not assume that someone will necessarily want their news shared. Treat people with the same respect and privacy that they would have otherwise.

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