Gay Marriage Is Just Good Business: The Financial Argument for Equality

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Same-sex-marriageAdvocates for gay marriage have been achieving a lot of success across the nation lately, with November wins at the ballot box legalizing same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington state. Feeding on that building momentum, Rhode Island, Illinois, Hawaii, Minnesota and Delaware are also now looking to recognize marriage equality for the LGBT community.

Arguments in favor of gay marriage are typically centered on justice. But there's a financial case to be made marriage equality for it, too.

Consider, for example, Illinois, where dozens of major business leaders have publicly declared support for gay marriage.

The public letter, signed by business leaders from Google (GOOG), Groupon (GRPN), Morningstar (MORN), Navistar International (NAV), Hyatt Hotels, Leo Burnett, Orbitz Worldwide (OWW), and Exelon (EXC), among others, stated that "to be competitive, a state must create an equitable, fair and respectful environment for all of its citizens. For this reason -- among others -- it is vitally important that Illinois lawmakers enact marriage equality soon."

The letter makes the case that promoting marriage equality helps businesses attract a broader range of employees, which, in turn, helps companies better connect with a diverse customer base. Also cited in the letter are numbers supporting the idea that legalizing gay marriage would promote economic development in a broader sense: "According to the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute, allowing same-sex couples to marry would generate between $39 million and $72 million in revenues for Illinois businesses, creating $4.5 million to $8 million in new sales and lodging tax revenues over three years."

Taking Action in Other Ways

Some companies aren't waiting for laws to be passed to show their support of gay marriage in other ways.

J.C. Penney (JCP) and Macy's (M), for example, have featured same-sex couples in their ads, while other companies, such as General Mills (GIS), Nike (NKE), Microsoft (MSFT), Amazon.com (AMZN), and Starbucks (SBUX), have issued supportive statements or donated money to marriage equality advocacy groups.

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Some companies and organizations have been proactive, and others reactive, in their support. In Orlando, Fla., for example, the gay community designated a certain weekend each year as "Gay Days," and descended upon Disney parks and other local attractions en masse. The city only recently began recognizing and promoting the event, which is estimated to bring in more than $13 million.

That's peanuts, though, compared to the estimated total buying power of the LGBT community: close to $780 billion.

Companies are clearly catching on. Take a look at the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index, which measures the nation's largest businesses on their equal employment opportunity policies, employee benefits, organizational LGBT competency, and their public commitment to equality and responsible corporate citizenship.

Only 13 companies earned top marks in its first survey in 2002. Last year 189 companies did. (Though it must be noted that the Human Rights Campaign's criteria for the index have changed somewhat over the years.)

Support is Growing

Widespread legalization of gay marriage increasingly seems inevitable in America, with support for it nationally and in Illinois growing rapidly.

Public opinion surveys reflect a growth in support. A recent study by the bipartisan Paul Simon Public Policy Institute reported a 10-percentage-point gain in support in Illinois to 44 percent in just the past two years (with an additional 32 percent favoring civil unions instead). A USA Today/Gallup poll taken in November shows national support at 53 percent, up from about 40 percent in 2009.

If America is moving toward universal marriage equality, then it makes sense that the last states to recognize it will be at a competitive disadvantage in many ways. And if ethical grounds aren't enough reason for some to support gay marriage, perhaps the financial grounds will be.


Motley Fool contributor Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, owns shares of Microsoft, Google, Amazon.com, and Starbucks. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, Exelon, Google, Morningstar, Nike, and Starbucks. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Google, Microsoft, Nike, and Starbucks.

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