After marriage equality, how about the workplace?

When the The National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce was founded in 2002, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Americans, including an estimated 1.4 million small business owners, were living as second-class citizens under the so called Defense Of Marriage Act. We were also a full two years away from Massachusetts becoming the first state to celebrate full marriage equality. It has taken time to change hearts and minds on marriage equality. However, the dollars and cents of equality have always been obvious. This simple truth helped us and our partners move this dialogue forward from those early days to this historic court ruling.

We wouldn't be celebrating this joyous victory for our community without the support of forward thinking corporate leadership and the tireless contributions of many LGBT entrepreneurs serving as role models, job creators, and business leaders throughout the nation. These business owners were and are positive examples that being out and being successful never have to be mutually exclusive. Every business they've created in large cities and small towns across America helped their neighbors see them as equal contributors to our economy. And yet our states are still a patchwork of inequality because of inconsistent non-discrimination protections and an absence of a comprehensive federal non-discrimination law. We strongly encourage lawmakers to extend every possible federal protection to LGBT employees and business owners.

Workplace equality
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The Supreme Court's ruling for marriage equality across America is a momentous win for freedom, equality, and inclusion. The business community, through long-standing and deep commitments to inclusion in the workplace and the supply chain, helped pave the way to this important victory and will take us even further. The road that led us here was paved by the strength, resilience, and determination of so many LGBT business owners who refused to let discrimination stop them from pursuing the American Dream. The road ahead is paved with a renewed and energized commitment to creating legacy businesses and building sustainable economic strength for our community. Our strength in business is a quintessential ingredient to true equality.

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Harnessing the momentum of the court's (and the majority of America's) affirmation of dignity and equality is essential to building an inclusive business climate for all of us.

As you've no doubt seen in Alabama, Texas, and elsewhere, the backlash has already begun. While some will be focused on preventing marriages from taking place, others will continue to push for so-called religious-freedom bills that further promote discrimination. It's morally unacceptable that hardworking LGBT Americans can still be fired from their jobs in 29 states (32 if transgender), evicted from their homes, or denied service in restaurants and shops simply for being who they are.

As major corporations expand their operations into states that have been traditionally anti-equality and unwelcoming to diversity, their presence will be a catalyst for social change. The expansion of powerful, inclusive businesses in these states will help LGBT businesses grow by actively promoting opportunities to join their supply chains, adding to the human capital and economy of that state.

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Our economy won't achieve its full potential until every American has unfettered access to every contracting opportunity with state, municipal and federal governments, and in every marketplace. LGBT business owners pay taxes, provide jobs, and create endless opportunities just like every other small business owner in America—they deserve the same freedoms to succeed. We're already seeing leadership from corporate giants in financial services and insurance to help answer the myriad of new questions marriage equality raises about taxation, transition plans, and beyond. Their support will further strengthen the argument that there is no turning back from this moment in the path to full equality. We must push forward.

Business thrives on competition. The NGLCC and its partners will continue to work for a strong and fully inclusive economy where the playing field is level for all.

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Commentary by Justin Nelson, co-founder and president of The National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the business voice of the LGBT community and the largest global not-for-profit advocacy organization specifically dedicated to expanding economic opportunities and advancements for LGBT people. Follow him on Twitter @NGLCCJustin.