January 2, 2013 at 5:29 pm EDT | by Mark Lee
Gay marriage one asset in state business growth

Marriage equality is good for business.

For that reason, entities of commerce — business associations and advocates, executive and management personnel, small and moderate-sized local enterprises and larger national and international corporations — have increasingly joined in supporting same-sex marriage. Large and growing numbers of businesses have promulgated internal policies respecting gay relationships and promote the same recognition by government.

As an anticipated slow slog to gain legal acceptance on a state-by-state basis evolves, business backing will prove essential to enlarging legalization beyond the current limited landscape.

Corporate business leaders have provided critical political support and significant sums of cash to fueling state marriage equality efforts and recent ballot box campaigns. Discounting the few proprietor outliers opposed on religious grounds, all types of businesses, particularly the largest corporations, are supportive of civil equality.

Broadening business engagement will be essential to both expanding success beyond a static inventory of predictable locales and creating a momentum-building base of jurisdictional wins to further advance accelerated and expanded adoption.

Despite a rapid transformation in public attitudes on the issue, legislative and electoral margins have typically been extremely narrow in the few states now offering marriage as an option for gay and lesbian couples. Even in Maryland, with its highly favorable constituency composition, only a small margin of votes provided a late-call referendum victory in November. Support from hundreds of businesses endorsing the “Yes on 6” campaign helped ensure victory.

The new normal for the national economy requires states to fiercely compete for enterprise location and the resulting economic and employment contribution. States increasingly battle one another to attract and retain businesses, making the corporate ability to accommodate all employees and solicit the best talent without restriction an important decision-making component.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is attempting to grow the state’s share of biomedical, science and technology companies in particular. This effort is designed to help offset the loss of jobs and investment in other business segments partly the result of a now emblematic and entrenched negative regulatory and tax environment.

These targeted growth industries require extension of what have become standard and necessary state government financial incentives to maintain competitive consideration over other locales. A differential on an employee civil liberty can be a deal-breaker in corporate determination, particularly for businesses employing younger and job-mobile talent. Not only do these employees demand that state law comport with corporate policy for their own protection or that of colleagues, they desire residence where full opportunity is available to all.

Competitiveness in the cutthroat world of business enticement on a state level is slowly enlarging to include “quality-of-equality” concerns. The common perception is that a jurisdiction offering a full range of civil citizenship rights also attracts desired cultural amenities offering a modern social lifestyle among like-minded contemporaries.

Even O’Malley’s own laborious path to endorsing gay marriage is symbolic of the evolution of this corporate requirement. The governor’s political competitiveness as a long-shot potential contender for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 recommended that he shift gears on a proposed state policy he eventually backed. An advantage bestowed state governments hoping to remain competitive in the commercial arena mirrored his personal political calculations.

Unfortunately for Maryland’s business development and economic growth prospects, however, civil marriage equality alone simply won’t cut it. While removal of this single disincentive for a growing number of businesses is a positive step, until the state improves its overall treatment and taxation of businesses and entrepreneurs it will continue to remain less competitive among other regional and nationwide choices.

The Free State’s free-spending tendencies and anti-business obstacles will cause Maryland to lose out on corporate retention and acquisition absent improving overall conditions for commerce.

Neighboring Virginia, the top business-friendly spot in the region, illustrates that dichotomy. The commonwealth would be well advised from a strategic perspective to extend marriage equality to all residents.But until Maryland and D.C. revise government policies to enhance corporate success and improve consumer conditions, there is scant incentive for Virginia to do so while commanding dominance in marketplace competitiveness.

Bottom line, gay wedding bells and better business policies are a match made in heaven.

Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

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