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Goldman's Blankfein to Speak Out for Same-Sex Marriage

Susanne Craig|The New York Times
Monday, 6 Feb 2012 | 7:47 AM ET

Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, is stepping onto a prominent and politically charged stage.

Same-sex wedding cake topper figurines
Getty Images
Same-sex wedding cake topper figurines

Lloyd C. Blankfein, the chief of Goldman Sachs who has become a lightning rod for Wall Street critics, might seem an unlikely advocate for same-sex marriage. But his credentials — a public figure in a conservative industry— could make him a powerful voice for that cause.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national organization that promotes equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, has persuaded Mr. Blankfein to be its first national corporate spokesman for same-sex marriage, an issue that will come up for a legislative vote in several states this year, including Washington and Maryland. Fred Sainz, an executive with the Human Rights Campaign, said the organization sought Mr. Blankfein, in part, because he is “an unexpected messenger.”

“Lloyd Blankfein is not someone average Americans would think is going to support marriage equality,” Mr. Sainz said. “The green visor crowd is not typically associated with socially progressive policies, and this is further proof that a diversity of Americansare coming to the same conclusion.”

With this national campaign, Mr. Blankfein is stepping onto a prominent and politically charged stage — at a time when his public persona is suffering. In recent years, he has been pilloried for outsize pay packages and rewarding the type of risk-taking that led to the financial crisis.

As the tumult fades, industry watchers are wondering about his second act. Mr. Blankfein, who has run Goldman since 2006, is one of the longest-tenured chief executives on Wall Street, and speculation is mounting that he will hand over the reins to a deputy this year.

Although he has long supported same-sex marriage, his move could be seen as a public relations play, albeit one with unclear results. The affiliation with a liberal organization could also alienate conservatives who do business with the firm.

Through a spokesman, Mr. Blankfein declined to comment.

Paul A. Argenti, a professor of corporate communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, says Mr. Blankfein’s decision isn’t likely to have any positive impact on the reputation of the firm — or Mr. Blankfein.

“If you are a Goldman employee and you are gay or contemplating coming out, this is great,” he said. But for Goldman and Mr. Blankfein, the issue of same-sex marriage has nothing to do with what Goldman Sachs does. “If Mr. Blankfein was taking a radical stand on pay you could say wow, that’s big. But equality is simply not an issue you associate with Goldman.”

Still, the campaign is sure to turn heads on Wall Street, which despite having made progress on equality issues over the last decade, is still considered to be a male-dominated, testosterone-driven place.

Behind the scenes, Mr. Blankfein has long been a supporter of same-sex marriage. Last year, he signed a letter urging state lawmakers to vote for a bill legalizing same-sex marriage and encouraged other chief executives to do the same. He also called lawmakers directly on the matter. The New York Legislaturepassed the law last summer.

Under Mr. Blankfein’s guidance, Goldman has also pushed employment policies that promote equality. It reimburses employees for the extra taxes they pay on domestic partner benefits. In 2002, the company made headlines for offering gender reassignment operations to employees.

At a dinner on Saturday in New York the Human Rights Campaign awarded Goldman its corporate equality award.

Now, Mr. Blankfein is taking his support one step further by speaking out on the issue.

“Most of the firms on the Fortune 500 list have all the right policies but when you ask them to take a public stance 99 percent are not willing to do it,” said Todd G. Sears, a former Merrill Lynch stockbroker turned diversity advisor, who runs an industry group called Out on the Street.

The Human Rights Campaign approached Mr. Blankfein in November through a gay executive at Goldman, and he was immediately receptive to the idea, according to people briefed on the matter but not authorized to speak publicly. As part of a national effort, Mr. Blankfein, wearing a crisp white shirt and red-patterned tie, appears in 32-second Web spot intended to drum up support and donations.

“I’m Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and C.E.O. of Goldman Sachs, and I support marriage equality,” Mr. Blankfein says in the spot, which was recorded at the bank’s headquarters in downtown Manhattan. “America’s corporations learned long ago that equality is just good business and is the right thing to do.”

For years, the organization has attracted a notable list of representatives, including Barbara Bush, the daughter of the former President George W. Bush, and the hockey player Sean Avery. Steve Tisch, a businessman and co-owner of the New York Giants, took part in a campaign to legalize gay marriage in New York last year.

But Mr. Blankfein’s participation is part of a new national effort by the Human Rights Campaign to enlist atypical advocates. One set of videos highlighted prominent black Americans, a demographic with especially low support for same-sex marriage. Mayor Cory A. Booker of Newark and the comedian and actress Mo’Nique were among the African-Americans who participated. Mr. Blankfein is the first corporate chieftain to represent the organization.

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