Showing real diversity leadership, President Obama today announced his support for same-sex marriage. His decision, applauded immediately by supporters of diversity and inclusion, came after pressure from the LGBT community and DiversityInc, among others.
"I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that 'don't ask, don't tell' is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married," Obama said in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America."
His announcement comes a day after the voters in North Carolina overwhelmingly voted to ban same-sex marriage and prohibit local governments from offering domestic-partner benefits.
The lesson is one several CEOs have learned. Vice President Joe Biden took a visible stand on Sunday, when he announced on "Meet the Press," a Sunday-morning TV talk show, his adamant support for same-sex marriage. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan very publicly added his adamant support.
Obama said he has supported other LGBT rights, including the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" after long deliberations. Read Ask the White Guy: What Changed Obama's Mind About Gay Rights?
Several states are considering same-sex-marriage legislation, both positive and negative. The recent events include the California court decision to strike down the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage that DiversityInc covered earlier this year. Minnesota faces a ban on same-sex marriages in November while Maine residents are being asked to approve marriage equality.
Fifty percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, according to the latest Gallup poll. By comparison, a 2000 Harris poll showed that only 15 percent of Americans at that time approved same-sex marriage. That may not be a comfortable-enough margin for Obama, but it's a telling indicator that public conviction is changing.
Equality for LGBT people is not a bargaining chip but a fundamental civil right, as noted in the Human Rights Campaign (HRC)'s President Joe Solmonese's official statement. And real leaders must unequivocally support ALL human rights. This lesson has been demonstrated in corporate America several times by diversity-management leaders, especially CEOs. Click on the images to download a PDF of our Diversity Leadership LGBT Pride Timeline and Facts & Figures.
Corporate Diversity-Leadership Lessons
There are several positive examples of CEOs and corporate leaders who have stood up for LGBT rights with great success.
- Most recently, jcpenney CEO Ron Johnson very publicly supported the company's decision to use Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson, despite boycott threats from a bogus organization called One Million Moms, which was really an offshoot of the anti-gay group Focus on the Family. Johnson cited DeGeneres' strong values as a reason for choosing her. Jcpenney is No. 35 in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity.
- Last year, several DiversityInc Top 50 companies, including KPMG (No. 22) and AT&T (No. 4), publicly denounced a Tennessee bill prohibiting local governments from passing antidiscrimination measures. The companies were embarrassed after the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, of which they are members, supported the bills. Other companies joining in the protest of the bill, which passed, included Pfizer, Comcast and Whirlpool (all three are on DiversityInc's 25 Noteworthy Companies list).
- In Indiana, DiversityInc Top 50 companies such as WellPoint (No. 34), Eli Lilly and Company (No. 29) and Cummins (No. 18) have been fighting the Defense of Marriage Act (which also narrowly defines marriage as only for heterosexual couples). Nationally, according to the Human Rights Campaign, several diversity-management leaders have opposed the Defense of Marriage Act legislation, including Aetna (No. 24), The Chubb Corporation, National Grid, Time Warner Cable and Xerox (Time Warner Cable and Xerox are two of DiversityInc's 25 Noteworthy Companies).
- Many DiversityInc Top 50 companies have been strong advocates for the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This includes Ernst & Young (No. 6), Accenture (No. 12), Merck & Co. (No. 16), IBM (No. 17), KPMG (No. 22), Dell (No. 26), Eli Lilly and Company, Bank of America (No. 31), WellPoint, Time Warner (No. 40), The Coca-Cola Company (No. 46) and Capital One (No. 47).
- Companies including Cisco and PG&E have publicly opposed Proposition 8 in California, and companies including The McGraw-Hill Companies urged the passage of same-sex marriage in New York.
- Companies including Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers (No. 1) recently announced that they will offset the tax penalties employees pay for having same-sex domestic-partner health benefits.
In the cases of all of these companies, their CEOs stood firmly and visibly behind their decisions to stand up for equality for everyone. Many of these CEOs have told DiversityInc in interviews why they are visible supporters of rights for everyone, including Bob McDonald of Procter & Gamble (No. 5), John Veihmeyer of KPMG, John Stumpf of Wells Fargo (No. 33), Ernst & Young's Jim Turley, and PricewaterhouseCoopers' Bob Moritz.
Vacuum in Diversity Leadership
In the absence of real diversity leadership, those who oppose equality win. There are several companies, including Walmart, whose leaders have to this point been reluctant to advocate for equal treatment of employees, including domestic-partner health benefits for same-sex partners of employees.
The absence of this equality costs companies support in the community from LGBT people, from their friends and allies, and increasingly from younger people, according to several polls from Gallup and other organizations. Read Civil-Rights Progress: Helping LGBT Youth for more information.
It also costs companies a spot on the DiversityInc Top 50 list (a policy that's been in place for the past four years). This year, when the HRC increased its qualifications for the Corporate Equality Index (CEI), including more provisions for transgender people, we added scoring penalties in the DiversityInc Top 50 for companies that received less than an 80 percent on the CEI. Read Our Analysis of the HRC's Corporate Equality Index.
The momentum is shifting quickly toward marriage equality, despite the backlash factor remaining in states such as North Carolina. Diversity leadership means taking a public stand. Thank you, President Obama.
Read Ask the White Guy: Decision Making, Clarity of Values & What to Do When It Goes Horribly Wrong for more on the importance of communicating diversity-leadership values