New Hampshire’s civil unions decision is good for business

New Hampshire’s decision yesterday to allow its gay and lesbian residents to have legal rights equivalent to marriage is not only a just and equitable thing to do. It is also a smart way for the state to keep its economic edge.

Mind you, I think it is terrific that New Hampshire is giving equal rights and privileges to gays and lesbians through progressive acts like legally recognizing civil unions. The religious community will doubtless argue to death the morality of the issue, but it is not arguable from the standpoint of American values. While it took the United States a while to extend equal rights to women and minorities, we eventually did the right thing. It was hard to get past our own Declaration of Independence that declared all people equal in the eyes of the law. Those who dismiss the declaration as a historical but not a legal document need only look at the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the federal government or any state from giving preference to one individual or group over another. Slowly states and courts are wakening up to the fact that it may be unconstitutional if gays and lesbians are not given equivalent rights of heterosexuals, because otherwise they do not really have equal protection under the law.

It can be taken for granted that New Hampshire’s decision is going to ruffle feathers. It takes a generation or two for both minds and hearts to change. Yet change they will. Much of our latest generation is growing up in a multicultural America. In my generation (the Baby Boomers), homosexuality was rarely acknowledged openly. In fact, I was a teen before I had much of an inkling of just how prevalent homosexuality actually was. Certainly, no one I knew admitted to being gay.

While unfortunately many Americans still treat homosexual behavior as immoral, even the most homophobic of us realize that homosexuals are still human beings. Being homosexual has no bearing on intelligence or your capability to perform any kind of work, except possibly in the narrow career of heterosexual sex surrogate. The homosexuals that I know are among the most gifted and creative members of society. If I ran a business, I would not want to limit my talent pool. States that discriminate against homosexuals are essentially giving homosexuals a reason to move to more gay friendly states. If I were a gay person, I would seek to live in states where the laws respected my human dignity. I would avoid states like Virginia, where I live. In Virginia, homosexuals can be legally discriminated against in employment and can be kept away from their spouses at hospitals. Unfortunately, these are not the only Virginia state laws that discriminate against homosexuals.

When I moved to Virginia in 1984, I gave no thought to such laws. I was simply interested in living in Reston, a planned community that I fell in love with. I am settled here and gainfully employed in a job that I will probably stay in until retirement. When my wife and I do retire though, we will feel freer to live anywhere we choose wish. Certainly how comfortable we feel in our community will have a bearing on our choice. Although we are years from retirement, we have already discussed states where we might retire. Off the list is Florida, not just because it is gay unfriendly, but because we hate its climate. However, since we are both tolerant people states like Oregon, which is becoming more and more progressive, is on our list, in spite of its rainy seasons.

The effect of New Hampshire’s decision is not only that gay people have incentive to move to the state. It also means that people like me who, if they have a choice of where to move to, can choose a state based on our values. Through its laws, Virginia is telling gays they do not want them as citizens. Yet even in Virginia, things are changing. Northern Virginia, perhaps because of its proximity to the nation’s capital, is trending toward being both more tolerant and Democratic. For example, in the 2004 elections the county where I live, Fairfax County, was one of a handful of counties whose presidential vote moved from the Republican to the Democratic Party.

Businesses everywhere are discovering that being gay friendly is good for their bottom line. Not only does it give them a richer talent pool to choose from, but catering to the needs of the gay community can be profitable too. You have to wonder, for example, what Walt Disney would think of its gay friendly policies. While he might be upset by the morality of Disney’s 1995 decision to allow health coverage for live in partners of gay and lesbian employees, the other part of him would be glad. The Disney management chain demonstrated that it was serious about ensuring that Disney was attracting the best talent. Disney has also figured out that making homosexuals feel included in the Disney experience was good for its profits too. While laws in Florida and California prohibit gay marriage, both theme parks allow gay couples to schedule commitment ceremonies at their parks. In addition, both parks schedule special days during the year for gays, their friends and their families. Doubtless Disney stockholders have benefited from their progressive approach.

What is true for Disney is doubtless true for most companies. Companies that have a choice of where they will relocate will give New Hampshire a special look. Not only is the state known for a business friendly attitude and low taxes, now it is also offering equal rights for gays and lesbians. Most companies already have gays or lesbians working for them. Having them live in a progressive state like New Hampshire will be seen as a bonus.

As for backwards states like Virginia, give it a decade or two. It may decide that to stay competitive it too needs to loosen its discriminatory laws against gays and lesbians. Otherwise, its economy may be left behind while gay friendly states like New Hampshire’s are likelier to soar.

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