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Is Gay Marriage Good For Business?

Washington state may soon join Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia as a state with legal gay marriage. Like Maine, the state has had a domestic partnership law in place for several years. However, Washington’s Senate Bill 6239 would extend full marriage equality to same-sex couples, and according to the Associated Press, there are enough votes in the state senate for the measure to pass.

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The bill has the support of several major companies -- but Microsoft, whose headquarters are in Redmond, is the most high-profile business to back it. And Brad Smith, Microsoft’s executive vice president of legal and corporate affairs, says the law is essential to the company’s competitive edge.

"As other states recognize marriage equality, Washington's employers are at a disadvantage if we cannot offer a similar, inclusive environment to our talented employees, our top recruits, and their families," he wrote.

Not everyone sees Senate Bill 6239 as a boon to state businesses. The National Organization for Marriage is mounting a fierce fight against it, as they have fought against similar legislation in other states. "NOM will not stand by and let activist politicians redefine marriage, the bedrock of civilization, without voters having a say," said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage. "Just as we mounted a People's Veto in Maine and were responsible for qualifying Proposition 8 to the ballot in California, we will make sure that voters in Washington have the ability to decide the definition of marriage for themselves."

Microsoft is not the first corporation to support gay marriage. Many of its supporters hail from corporate America, as was the case in New York, the last state to legalize gay marriage, in June 2011.

“Here in New York… people understand the business component of the argument for marriage equality,” said Michelle Kristel, Executive Director of In The Life Media, the company that produces the “In The Life” gay and lesbian news program for PBS. She said the push for gay marriage in New York was successful in part because the business community convinced lawmakers that marriage equality would provide a competitive advantage for them over states that had no such provision for same-sex couples. “[Mayor Michael] Bloomberg and GOP donors such as hedge fund managers Paul E. Singer and Daniel S. Loeb made very significant donations to the campaign for marriage equality,” Kristel said.

Gregory T. Angelo, Executive Director of the Liberty Education Forum and Chairman of the Log Cabin Republicans of New York, says support for the passage of the Marriage Equality Act came from “a broad coalition” that included major players in the business community, including Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, Rochelle Lazarus of Ogilvy & Mather and Dick Parsons of Citigroup.

“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,” Angelo said.

He believes Microsoft’s decision to support legal gay marriage in Washington State wasn’t just a question of good timing. “They want a robust and competitive workforce, and they understand that support for equal rights for all of its employees -- and potential employees -- is the way to make that happen,” Angelo said.

Although no one can say for sure what the fate of Senate Bill 6239 will be, Angelo believes the business argument for its passage is too strong to ignore. “At the end of the day it's simple math,” he said. “A broader pool of employees makes for a stronger workforce, a stronger workforce allows a company to thrive, a thriving company will hire more workers and more revenue will be provided to the state. It's just good business sense.”

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