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Gay Marriage in N.Y.: How Everyone Benefits

By Barbara Frankel

Last November at our event, country-music star Chely Wright told our audience of senior corporate executives what her life was like as a closeted professional in an industry that was far from inclusive of LGBT people. She described putting a gun to her head—and then putting the gun down. Today, a little more than a year after coming out, Wright is happily anticipating her wedding to a beautiful young woman, Lauren Blitzer.

They are getting married this summer in Connecticut, which up until late Friday night was one of only five states plus the District of Columbia that recognized same-sex marriages. Late Friday night, the New York State Legislature approved same-sex marriage and Gov. Andrew Cuomo immediately signed it into law. New York is the largest state to recognize same-sex marriages, and the impact of this decision will be profound.

The fight for LGBT rights has gained momentum this year, with the federal government agreeing to end “don’t ask, don’t tell” for the military and President Barack Obama slowly but surely becoming a more vocal advocate. As has happened with other human-rights battles, some progressive corporations are leading the way, while others damage their reputations with employees and customers.

Corporate support of LGBT rights has included the battle against the Defense of Marriage Act in Indiana, led by companies such as Eli Lilly and Co., WellPoint and Cummins, Nos. 39, 36 and 18, respectively, in The 2011 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity. It has included advocacy for ENDA, the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, supported by corporations including DiversityInc Top 50 companies Kaiser Permanente (No. 1), Ernst & Young (No. 5), IBM Corp. (No. 7), Bank of America (No. 11), The Coca-Cola Co. (No. 12),  Merck & Co. (No. 15),  Accenture (No. 23), KPMG (No. 29), Dell (No. 30), Wells Fargo & Co. (No. 40), Time Warner (No. 28), Eli Lilly, WellPoint and Whirlpool Corp. (No. 49), as well as DiversityInc 25 Noteworthy Companies BASF Corp., Boehringer Ingelheim, Capital One, Chubb, KeyCorp and Pfizer, and also companies such as Eastman Kodak Co., Ameriprise Financial and General Motors.      

For some companies, the equality effort still begins at home. Southern Company, one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies, last year approved domestic-partner benefits for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Other companies are still grappling with this issue, which DiversityInc views as a non-negotiable essential item to earning a spot on our lists.

There’s a flip side to this, of course, even in companies that work to have inclusive cultures. Last year’s Target donation to a gubernatorial candidate who was publicly homophobic is still having repercussions. More recently, several companies, including AT&T (No. 4), KPMG, Whirlpool, Pfizer and Comcast, were horrified to learn their local representatives on the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce had approved a resolution supporting a state bill prohibiting local governments from passing antidiscrimination ordinances. Although the companies quickly issued statements deploring the bill, it had already passed the legislature and had gone to the governor’s office, where he signed it into law.

Read DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti’s column: Decision Making, Clarity of Values & What to Do When It Goes Horribly Wrong.

But right now another governor, Andrew Cuomo, has proven to be a staunch supporter of LGBT rights, and the New York victory should be savored by the 42,000 same-sex couples in that state (source: U.S. Census Bureau), their friends and families.

It’s also a moment of victory for corporations that understand that having an inclusive culture isn’t limited to what’s behind the doors of their offices. What happens in government and society deeply impacts recruitment, engagement, productivity and innovation.

I’ll be watching Chely Wright and Lauren Blitzer get married this summer, as well as reading about the thousands of gay and lesbian couples who will marry in New York. The impact on the individual is immeasurable. Blitzer posted this on her Facebook page right after the New York decision was announced, and I think it sums up what many LGBT people feel when their companies stand up for them: “This has always been my residence. Now it really is my home.”

Read further coverage of gay marriage in New York.

7 Comments

  • Dear Barbara: It would be great if Diversity Inc would make an editorial decision never to use the phrase “gay marriage” again. There is no such thing. There are states, including my home state of Massachusetts, that provide equal access to marriage for same-sex couples. The marriage we have equal access to is just that – marriage – the same marriage as everyone else. That is, after all, the point. The phrase “gay marriage” makes it sound as if same-sex couples are getting some new kind of marriage. I think media should use “same-sex marriage” if there is a need for a short phrase – but better still – use “Equal access to marriage for same-sex couples” says accurately what the New York law is all about.

    Thanks,

  • Dear Mrs. Frankel, Thanks for inviting me to read your article since it is very informative. However, in my opinion the article failed to answer how we all benefit from having gay marriage in New York. The gay and lesbian community deserves moral respect and enjoy the legal structure the same as everyone else in the state of New York and your article is just one sided. Next time may be, your approach can be more true to its purpose presented by its title. Regards, F Alvatorre

  • Anonymous

    “Marriage between same-sex couples” is a much more accurate description than
    “Gay Marriage.” There is no “gay marriage.” There is only “marriage.”

  • Anonymous

    I agree with F Alvatorre, I do not see how gay marriage benefits everyone… I would like to know since it would be one more way to articulate our support for equal access. Now only if the Feds would recognize my partner’s right to collect my social security benefits. That is a significant benefit not on the table, but would put our partners on par with other opposite sex couples.

  • Anonymous

    I could never fathom how allowing two people who love each other, regardless of gender, the right to marry hurt anyone or how it could damage traditional marriage. It is easier to see where opening marriage to same sex couples can benefit others. For example, it encourages companies like Southern Company to extend benefits to all couples that some opposite sex partners may not have previously had. It erases some of the artificial barriers governments, businesses and organizations have put up between the traditionally married couples and couples who don’t fit that mold, making it easier for them to adopt, to have a voice in the care of a badly injured or seriously ill partner, to benefit from laws like FMLA. After all, if (even) same sex couples can get these benefits, then it makes no sense to withhold them from anyone else.

  • While it is a mouthful, it is a more accurate statement to say that this law provides legal access to the right to marry for same-sex couples. In my mind, at its very core is the word “right” – that is the crux of the matter . In our culture, marriage affords couples certain legal rights, once they become legally married. From my perspective, marriage is the legal vehicle and framework in which same-sex couples can experience, protect and exercise those rights afforded married opposite-sex couples. In other words, it’s not so much about the legally and socially recognized institution of marriage as it is about the rights afforded to couples once they are married (ie: the protection and recognition of the marriage union, both socially and legally).

  • Anonymous

    Question: if a gay couple marry in a state that recognizes gay marriages if one of the partners is not a legal resident will the marriage allow for the partner that is not legal the right to apply for permanent residence?

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