Eli Lilly, WellPoint Take Strong Stand Against Indiana's Same-Gender Marriage Ban

By Debby Scheinholtz

CEOs of 15 companies, including DiversityInc Top 50 companies Eli Lilly and Company, WellPoint and Cummins, voiced their protest to Indiana’s proposed same-gender-marriage ban in a letter published in the Indianapolis Star.

The CEOs noted that passage of HJR-3, a bill that would create a constitutional amendment banning same-gender marriage in Indiana, would put their companies at a serious disadvantage in attracting and retaining top talent. As of June 1, 17 states and Washington, D.C., will allow same-gender marriage.

Eli Lilly (No. 35 in the DiversityInc Top 50) has been at the forefront of fighting against passage of HJR-3, and is an active supporter of Freedom Indiana, a statewide bipartisan coalition of businesses, faith leaders, and civil-rights and community organizations united to oppose the bill.

Last month, Eli Lilly Senior Vice President of Human Resources Steve Fry testified before the state’s House Judiciary Committee to voice Lilly’s opposition of the amendment.

“This issue is not just one for our lesbian and gay employees,” Fry said. “We must recognize that younger people, most especially young professionals, do not support marriage discrimination. It is imperative that we have access to the world’s top talent in order to discover and develop the medicines of tomorrow. We have no way to predict who might discover a cure for cancer or diabetes or Alzheimer’s diseasewe need talent from every corner of the earth.”

Corporations have been increasingly active in state and federal legislation in support of same-gender marriage. Last year, several corporations fought for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was struck down by the Supreme Court last June. Five companies on either the DiversityInc Top 50 list or DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies list joined the Human Rights Campaign‘s Business Coalition for DOMA Repeal. They are: Prudential Financial (No. 8), Marriott International (No. 16), Aetna (No. 19), Bristol-Myers Squibb (No. 45) and MassMutual (25 Noteworthy).

According to the HRC, more than 25 companies went on record to fight either state or federal legislation banning same-gender marriage last year, including General Mills (No. 26) in Minnesota, Microsoft (No. 44) in Washington and Alcoa in a number of states.

Corporate leaders have also stood up for lesbian and gay equality around broader issues that have made headlines. These include AT&T’s recent statement against Russia’s anti-LGBT law in conjunction with this year’s Winter Games, despite the company’s longstanding support of the Olympics.

Corporate leaders of companies such as EY (No. 4), Merck & Co. (No. 12), AT&T (No. 13) and Caterpillar (25 Noteworthy)all long-time supporters of the Boy Scouts of Americapressured the organization into ending its ban on gay members last year.

According to the CEOs who signed Sunday’s Indianapolis Star letter, “HJR-3 is bad for Indiana and bad for business.”

They acknowledge that neighboring state Illinoiswhere same-gender marriage will become legal on June 1is using the contentious debate as “an opening to poach businesses and talent from Indiana.” Adam Pollet, Director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, told Crain’s Chicago Business that same-gender marriage is good for tourism as well as for recruitment. “If you believe the race in the 21st century is for talent, if you limit yourself you are limiting your ability to grow,” he said.

Eli Lilly Chairman, President and CEO John Lechleiter told DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti that a visible commitment to diversity is essential to the company’s success in that it fosters the innovation that the company thrives on.

“[if we can] effectively integrate the ideas, the energies, the passions of Lilly people around the worldLilly people who come from all sorts of different backgrounds, who bring their diversity with them to work, who are proud of that, who really make their different perspectives and their different backgrounds work for us in terms of literally making that whole greater than the sum of the partsif we can harness that, it gives us a real competitive advantage,” Lechleiter said.

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