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Time for business community to endorse gay marriage

November 21, 2012

Rhode Island is now the only New England state without marriage equality. RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay says this would change if the business community supports marriage equality.

As gay marriage gains momentum from the Pacific northwest to the shores of  Maine, Rhode Island is getting ready for another round of  debate at the State House over marriage equality.

This last time the General Assembly considered this issue, in 2011, the marriage equality forces could muster support on Smith Hill for civil unions, but could not convince lawmakers to allow full quality for our gay and lesbian neighbors.

Much has changed since that contentious legislative joust. At the November 6 election, for the first time in American history, voters in three states, redefined marriage by popular vote. Voters in a third state said a resounding no to a Minnesota constitutional amendment restricting marriage to the union of a man and a woman.

The votes in favor of gay unions in Maryland, Washington State and Maine showed that attitudes are rapidly changing in the realm of marriage equality. Before the recent election, voters had rejected gay marriage in 32 separate state referenda.

One element that has changed in the recent state votes was the position of the business community. For many years, business  sat on the sidelines of this debate, even as many companies tacitly backed marriage equality by bestowing domestic partner health care benefits on their gay workers.

Now, business leaders across the country are increasingly voicing their support for marriage equality. The most dramatic evidence recently has come from Washington State, where executives of such business groups and companies as Microsoft, Starbucks, Vulcan, Nike, REI and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce all came out in favor of same-sex unions.

During the Rhode Island General Assembly debate in 2011, organized labor broke with its neutral stance as the state AFL_CIO endorsed marriage equality. Governor Lincoln Chafee has always said that marriage equality is good for business, particularly in an economy where recruiting well-educated creative class workers is a plus for any state.

Yet Chafee, who doesn’t have the greatest relationship with the business community, was not able to convince corporate leaders to sign on to marriage equality. Inclusive communities are obviously more successful than those who cling to outmoded ideas of personal relations.

Many of  Rhode Island’s largest private employers, in business, health care and academia, provide domestic partner benefits for their gay employees. These include Textron, Brown University and the Lifespan Hospital chain.

With Maine’s embrace of marriage equality, Rhode Island is now the only New England state without same sex marriage. But opinion in the Ocean State is changing rapidly on this matter.

Rhode Island’s congressional delegation supports marriage equality unanimously now that Sen. Jack Reed’s position on the issue has evolved.

After the Democratic Party’s romp in Assembly elections, the legislature that convenes at the State House on New Years’ Day will have almost a dozen new members who favor marriage equality. Governor Chafee is on board and House Speaker Gordon Fox, D-Providence, has pledged to hold a gay marriage vote early in the new session.

Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, says her group has not taken a position on marriage equality.

Rhode Island’s business community is always saying that we need to keep tax rates and regulatory regimes in line with our New England neighbors, especially Massachusetts and Connecticut.

So isn’t it about time that business leaders speak out and insist that our state treat equally  gay citizens and workers who seek the benefits, legal clarity and social understanding that most of us already enjoy?

Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday on Morning Edition at 6:40 and 8:40. You cal also follow his political analysis and reporting at our `On Politics’ blog at

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Bob Oliveira permalink
    November 21, 2012 8:34 pm

    So the business community should focus on gay marriage instead of fighting for a better tax climate? That’s why companies go to other New England states – because of gay marriage – not taxes?

    That being said, I really could care less whether or not gay marriage is the law – it doesn’t affect me and the strengthening of the family by expanding who can and cannot marry doesn’t seem to be a bad thing. The fact that so many people choose not to marry, or marry late, or have children out of wedlock, seems to me to be a greater problem facing our society.

    Better question is – since the marriage equality crowd is so big on inclusiveness, why the disrespect for the unborn? Social issues always seem to be off the table for liberals until gay marriage comes up, then it is the civil rights fight of the century.

    As a society, we will never be inclusive until we realize that, as inconvenient it may be for some who apparently realized too late where babies come from, an unborn child is a developing human being that cannot protect itself and thus is deserving of protection under the law.

    I would not be satisfied with the General Assembly taking up any social justice issues until they are at least consistent in their approach.

    • Mister Guy permalink
      November 24, 2012 7:31 am

      “Better question is – since the marriage equality crowd is so big on inclusiveness, why the disrespect for the unborn?”

      Because “the unborn” aren’t actual, living people.

      • Sarah Morris permalink
        November 25, 2012 1:48 am

        Say what? The “unborn” aren’t actual, living people?! What the heck. Let’s get with the science. The “unborn” has the unique DNA as that of a living person. All the the human organs are present by 10-12 weeks. The heart is beating by this point in time. How functional must you be before being considered a ‘living person’? With Mister Guy’s definition of a ‘living person’, my mother, who suffers from Alzheimers, would not be considered ‘human’. That is what HItler would do to get rid of the Jews, the disabled, and ill. He would first define them as not human before elliminating them. Congratulations Mister Guy, you and Hilter would get a long nicely.

  2. al smith permalink
    November 23, 2012 9:03 pm

    Oh please…that’s what the business community should br pushing for? Because thats why business is so bad here in RI? Because we don’t have gay marriage?

    For journalism’s sake why doesnt Wrni focus on what businesses really want…instead of harping on your liberal social issues rant

  3. Mister Guy permalink
    November 25, 2012 7:12 pm

    “Let’s get with the science.”

    Yes indeed…let us look at the proven science. The point of viability for a fetus is between 24-28 weeks of gestation, and even Roe v. Wade acknowledges this fact.

    “How functional must you be before being considered a ‘living person’?”

    The law is very clear on this…see above.

    “With Mister Guy’s definition of a ‘living person’, my mother, who suffers from Alzheimers, would not be considered ‘human’.”

    Ridiculous nonsense.

    “Congratulations Mister Guy, you and Hilter would get a long nicely.”

    Congratulations Ms. Morris, you’re as proven moron.

  4. November 27, 2012 4:22 pm

    Has anyone noticed that states with gay marriage have lower unemployment rates and more job creation that RI?

    • Mister Guy permalink
      November 28, 2012 12:45 am

      Well, the only state with a higher unemployment rate than RI right now is NV, and while most of the states (MA, VT, NH, ME, IA & MD) that allow full marriage rights to same sex couples have unemployment rates that are lower than the national average, a few states (CT, NY, WA & DC) that allow full marriage rights to same sex couples actually have higher unemployment rates than the national average. There’s obviously a lot more to economic growth than just a state’s laws on marriage rights.

  5. November 28, 2012 5:07 pm

    Thanks Mister Guy. You are correct but you also proved my point…

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