Q. I read your story about Secretary Clinton pushing for global LGBT rights [www.DiversityInc.com/secretary-clinton]. In your story, you stated: “In the United States, several corporations on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list have led the way in establishing domestic-partner benefits and advocating for same-sex marriage and the end of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.” My question is: How can corporations actually support same-sex marriage?
A. Corporate advocacy of civil rights has a long history in the United States. As recently as 2003, more than 20 corporations filed briefs supporting the use of affirmative action as a factor in college admissions in the Grutter v. Bollinger University of Michigan case before the Supreme Court.
In the civil-rights battle for marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples, several companies have taken activist roles. Most notably:
*Eli Lilly and Company, Cummins and WellPoint, Nos. 29, 18 and 34, respectively, on The 2012 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list, have actively battled the Defense of Marriage Act in Indiana, where all three are headquartered. In a 2007 letter opposing the legislation, Eli Lilly’s senior vice president of human resources, Dr. Tony Murphy, wrote: “Given the great lengths Lilly takes to attract and retain top talent from around the world, we oppose any legislation that might impair our ability to offer competitive employee benefits or negatively impact our recruitment and retention. Beyond this, we are concerned that the proposed legislation sends an unwelcoming signal to current and future employees by making Indiana appear intolerant. As a result, we believe this amendment works against Indiana’s stated desire to broaden its appeal to attract new businesses to the state.” Read our coverage on DOMA in Ruling Against Defense of Marriage Act Is Major Diversity Victory.
*Several California-based companies publicly worked against Proposition 8, the amendment that was approved in November 2008 to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in that state. Proposition 8 recently was overturned and is being appealed in the U.S. Supreme Court. Among the companies opposing it were PG&E, No. 1 on The 2012 DiversityInc Top 5 Regional Utilities list, and Levi Strauss. Read our coverage on Proposition 8 in Gay-Marriage Ban Struck Down: Why Your Company Should Care.
Nancy McFadden, PG&E senior vice president of public affairs, made this statement in July 2008 about Proposition 8, according to the Human Rights Campaign: “We are proud to join NO on 8 and Equality California to protect the freedom to marry for all Californians. For years, PG&E has advocated for equality and fairness in the workplace, and across California. In that same spirit, PG&E is honored to be a founding member of the Equality Business Advisory Council and urge our business colleagues to join us as we work to guarantee the same rights and freedoms for every Californian.”
And just this year, several New York–based companies publicly supported the decision to allow same-sex marriage in that state. These companies included McGraw-Hill and Xerox, as well as former Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons, according to the Empire State Pride Agenda.
Progressive companies stand up publicly for their values, even when there’s risk of negative repercussions.