News » Workplace

Marriage Equality May Not Be Beneficial for Some Business

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Monday May 14, 2012

Although many have argued that the legalization of same-sex marriage would be good for business and bring financial success to states across America, a recent New York Times article suggests that some companies may not gain business from marriage equality.

Before North Carolina citizens voted to define marriage between one man and one woman in the state, former President Bill Clinton recorded a message that urged voters to not pass the measure. He said that if the constitution were amended to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions, then North Carolina would suffer financially and lose business.

"What it will change is North Carolina's ability to keep good businesses, attract new jobs, and attract and keep talented entrepreneurs," Clinton said. "If it passes, your ability to keep those businesses, get those jobs and get those talented entrepreneurs will be weakened."

But North Carolina is one of the best states to do business in, the Times notes. So is Virginia and Texas -- two conservative states that do not recognize marriage equality either. New York and Massachusetts, which have legalized gay marriage, are ranked as one of the worst places in the country in which to do business.

Big businesses in the Old North State never took a stand against the anti-gay marriage measure. The Associated Press reported that Stephen Dull, a gay man and the vice president for strategy and innovation at North Carolina-based VF Corp. (the parent North Face, Nautica and Lee jeans) believes that the measure would prevent diverse talent from coming to the state.

In Washington state, however, Starbucks, Microsoft and other large corporations announced their support for same-sex marriage and helped persuade lawmakers to legalize gay marriage last February.

The Times also points out that none of the 15 Fortune 500 companies based in North Carolina (including Bank of America, Lowe's) voiced their support for marriage equality. Gary Gates, a demographer and co-author of the book "The Gay and Lesbian Atlas," told the newspaper "there's little or no evidence that same-sex couples consider the issue of lesbian-bisexual-gay-transgender laws in deciding where to move."

"Their patterns look like the broader patterns in the U.S. They're moving south and west. For everyone who moves, the main reason is for a job," Gates added. "Even for the LGBT. community, the top issue is the job. Marriage rights are secondary."

But Brain Ellner, who led the successful Human Rights Campaign for same-sex marriage in New York last year, said "We heard over and over from the C.E.O.'s of major corporations that they don't want any impediments to recruiting the best people, period, whether they're people who want to live in a tolerant city or state or gay people who want to live where they feel their families will be protected and safe."

When Washington state lawmakers were considering passing the measure that would legalize gay marriage, Starbucks officials said that the company "strives to create a company culture that puts our partners first, and our company has a lengthy history of leading and supporting policies that promote equality and inclusion."

The National Organization for Marriage, a group bent on banning same-sex marriage across the country, launched a campaign in order to boycott Starbucks because of the company's views on marriage equality. The attempt failed as the coffee company's revenue grew 15 percent in the most recent quarter to a record $3.2 billion.

’What it will change is North Carolina’s ability to keep good businesses, attract new jobs, and attract and keep talented entrepreneurs’

"It would be great if they were taking a stand because it's the right thing to do," Gates said. "But they understand that marriage equality is a mechanism for them to attract and retain talent. It's not just about gay people, because the truth is, there aren't enough gay people to make a huge impact. But it signals a kind of openness to people who are different. It sends a signal to people, straight or gay, that this is a place where they can potentially thrive. That's especially critical for companies that rely on people who have to be creative, entrepreneurial and innovative."

When New York lawmakers were considering to pass the law that would legalize same-sex marriage, Goldman Sachs' CEO Lloyd Blankfein announced his support for marriage equality, as did a number of high profile New York businessmen including Dick Parsons of Citigroup, CNBC noted.

"These business leaders used the cache of their status and the pulpit afforded to them by the nature of their position to underscore the fact that marriage for all citizens of the state would be good for business, attract and retain qualified employees and ultimately lead to more revenues for New York," said Gregory T. Angelo the executive director of the Liberty Education Forum and chairman of the Log Cabin Republicans - a conservative LGBT group.

Although it is uncertain whether or not the legalization of gay marriage would be beneficial for businesses in some states, at the very least, it would positively impact the state's economy as numerous same-sex couples would spend money in order to hold weddings and other festivities to celebrate their marriage.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that if Proposition 8 had not overturned the California Supreme Court's ruling on marriage equality, "More than 130,000 same-sex couples, from California and out-of-state, would have spent $683.6 million on marriage-related activities, like weddings, honeymoons and travel over the following three years. That doesn't include money spent by the guests invited to the nuptials."

The article also says that more than 2,000 jobs would have been created and $64 million in tax revenue would have been earned.

A professor of urban studies at the University of Toronto made a less tangible argument. Ever since Richard Florida wrote in a 2003 book that the "creative class" (his term) was essential to the health of cities in the 21st century, his theories have made news.

Florida posits that the cities with high concentrations of techies, artists and homosexuals are the healthiest. While gay men and lesbians represent only a small part of the population, a perception that a community is open, welcoming and safe for them is a key component in attracting these new creatives, according to Florida.

His theory became part of the public lexicon and moved into government practices. One city, Spokane, WA, even attempted to create an "instant" gay neighborhood in the hopes that the city would become more, well, fabulous -- like Austin, Texas; Cambridge-Boston, MA, New York and San Francisco.

Florida's theory is important because business and civic leaders often complain that passing a law perceived as hurtful to LGBT citizens creates a perception that that city is backward, inward thinking and not conducive to creativity.

Such an argument was employed heavily in putting the nail in the coffin of Tennessee's infamous "Don't Say Gay" law that would have prohibited discussions of homosexuality in most schools.


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