Is Gay Marriage Good For Business? The Answer’s Not As Simple As You May Think
Sometimes you just know that you are being subjected to a hard sell. Someone pushes a product at you and they just start rattling off alleged benefits, hoping that one will hit the right button and trigger your impulse to buy. You’ll look younger… cures baldness… lose weight… save money… girls love it… just buy it, will ya? That’s what the recent rash of ‘gay-marriage-is-good-for-business’ announcements is beginning to sound like. Microsoft was the big boy who got this started, pouring millions of dollars into pro-gay marriage initiatives, warning Washington State that a ban on gay marriage would be bad for business because it would hurt with the recruitment of talent.
After last week’s Supreme Court rulings, which were largely victories for advocates of homosexual marriage, a number of major corporations applauded the rulings, many of whom had publicly advocated the shift in public statements and in friend of the court briefs. JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Starbucks, Apple, Microsoft, Ben and Jerry’s, Google and others were quick to applaud the rulings when they occurred. Now, of course, the CEOs of these companies are free to offer a personal opinion in favor of same sex marriage, but the business advantage arguments seem to be rather a stretch.
One of the most frequently cited arguments is that a pro-same sex marriage ruling would cut down on paperwork. But the problems with this are numerous. First of all, in a situation where some states have same sex marriages and some don’t, it seems like a new marriage category adds to the paperwork. So, the argument only applies to a ruling which forces same sex marriage on all the states, which was not one of the real world scenarios which were addressed before the courts.
In addition, the effect of expanding the legal definition of marriage to include same sex-couples, is to immediately expand the number of people to whom expensive health insurance benefits are entitled. These companies are gigantic, with extremely high economies of scale in their human resources department. They are very efficient when it comes to the handling of paperwork and same-sex marriage will save them very little money in extra paperwork at the time of hiring. And it will cost them substantially more to be forced to pay an additional dependent’s health care benefits during the whole period in which they are employed by Microsoft.
If same sex marriage benefits are, on net, a cost to these businesses, then it is not proper for these companies to expend shareholder resources, including name and brand, on something which represents a personal view of the management which has not been subjected to shareholder approval. A CEO can make a personal statement, hire his own personal lawyer to write an amicus brief, and his own personal publicist to release press statements, and leave shareholder resources for shareholder purposes. Do Wall Street firms, in these volatile times, really need to be focusing management attention on the current cause celebre?
Another touted benefit to gay marriage is the increased ability to recruit and retain talent.
Recently, the former CEO of BP, Lord Browne, called for Britain to embrace homosexual marriage because he says it is good for business. He says that countries which change the definition of marriage to include homosexual relations will have an advantage over those which keep the historic definition.
But no evidence has been presented to justify this point. Browne gives one and only one anecdotal example to justify this sweeping and unprecedented shift in law. But the logic seems somewhat flawed no matter how many examples are given. U.S. and U.K. growth rates were at their highest during an historic period in which the legal hostility to homosexuality was far more intense than it is any place in the modern world.
If there is some mysterious relationship between legal neutrality on the matter of homosexuality and prosperity why have we not seen it before? Did we see flows of talent to Weimar Germany during the sexually egalitarian 1920s? Did economic know-how flood into France after 1789 when the revolutionary allies of the Marquis De Sade upended the social system? Where precisely do we find this in history?
The fact is that homosexuals, just like heterosexuals, tend to go to places where the wages are highest and jobs are most plentiful. Yes, of course, open persecution is a strong disincentive, but open persecution is not what America is debating right now, nor has it been since the Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws in (high growth, by the way) states like Georgia and Texas.
During recent decades we’ve seen the sexual revolution make enormous progress in European countries primarily. Given the gay-means-growth theory, we’d expect them to be outperforming sexually regressive countries like the United States, but they aren’t. Quite to the contrary, the sexually liberated states of Europe have drifted further towards socialism.
The real threat to talent attraction in Europe is the recent waves of price controls on management salaries. Interestingly enough, those proposals have tended to come from the same nations which have pushed the sexual liberation envelope. If talent retention were really such a high priority that it can be used to upend several thousand years of moral consensus, then it should not be easily discarded when the mob decides to punish business.
But what if it turns out that people really do decide where to live and work based on sexual identity politics? Then there is no particular reason to assume that this cuts in favor of the homosexual side. Homosexuals, after all, are a small percentage of the population: 2-3% by most serious estimates. On the other hand, when one adds up Mormons, evangelicals, traditional Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews, that’s roughly half of the population. Aren’t they talented, too?
One man’s culture of ‘marriage equality’ (to use an advocate’s buzz phrase) is another man’s rejection of the Bible and millennia of human tradition. I can tell you that Christians and Orthodox Jews are expressing very grave concerns about the tone of anger directed at them in this current climate. Maybe business leaders need to start thinking about how to attract their talents, too.
Article originally published on Forbes.com.