Business Community’s Support of Same-Sex Marriage Pivotal in 2012 Elections

Business may have played a significant role in defeating the Minnesota ballot measure which would have created a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. The measure was defeated by over 100,000 votes, and Minnesota became the first state in U.S. history to reject a ballot measure seeking to ban same-sex marriage.

A week before Minnesota voters weighed in on the amendment, 50 current and former CEOs took out a full-page ad in the Minneapolis Star Tribune to publicly announce their intention to vote no on the amendment. Unlike many Minnesotans, who disapproved of the ban on moral grounds, the business leaders made a business argument: same sex marriage is good for business, plain and simple.

The Star Tribune ad was signed by the leaders of several major businesses, including Ken Powell of General Mills (based in Minneapolis), Greg Page of Cargill (based in Wayzata); Bill George of Medtronic (based in Minneapolis), Doug Baker, Jr. of Ecolab’s (based in St. Paul), among dozens of others.

“Corporate leaders argued that this marriage amendment would hurt their ability to attract and retain the best employees, undermine employees’ engagement in their jobs, and set back corporate efforts to hire the diverse workforces necessary to serve their increasingly diverse customer bases,” wrote John G. Taft, CEO of RBC Wealth Management – U.S., in a recent editorial.

A survey published this week conducted by Harris Interactive found that companies supporting same-sex marriage have an easier time doing business with younger adults. Over one third (34 percent) of U.S adults aged 18-34 said they would be much more likely or somewhat likely to switch to a brand or service provider if they found the one they currently used opposed same-sex marriage.

Public opposition to same-sex marriage could also hurt a company’s ability to attract talent, said Joe Solmonese, founder and managing partner of the firm that published the survey.

“Clearly these young adults are a prime hiring demographic for employers and are our nation’s next generation of business leaders,” said Solmonese. “So, their opinions are likely to set the tone for the future – and companies would be wise to consider their position on marriage equality if they want to attract an engaged and diverse workforce moving forward.”

In the end, Minnesota’s business community put its money where its mouth was. Almost $2 million, or 20 percent, of the money spent by Minnesotans United for All Families (MUAF), the political committee opposed to the amendment, came from Minnesota’s business and professional communities. Minnesotans United for All Families outspent its counterpart Minnesota for Marriage by over $5 million.

“In a world changing as quickly as ours is today, business executives are light-years ahead of politicians when it comes to knowing, in real time, about what is going on in society,” wrote Taft. “This was demonstrated by the gap between the business community’s understanding of Minnesota’s attitudes towards same-sex marriage and that of the politicians who put the ill-fated amendment on the ballot.”

Ballot measures to legalize same-sex marriage also enjoyed considerable financial support from the business community. In Washington State, which legalized same-sex marriage by almost 200,000 votes, Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Seattle-based, and his wife MacKenzie, contributed $2.5 million to the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage.

Bezos “now tops a growing list of heterosexual business executives who are replacing wealthy gay people as the some of the biggest donors to the movement behind same-sex marriage and equality for gay men and lesbians,” wrote Michael Shear in the New York Times.

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft (also based in Seattle), and Steve Ballmer, the company’s current CEO, each donated $100,000 to the campaign.

[image credit: Ben Salter, Flickr]

Harry Stevens is a freelance reporter covering climate change, corporate social responsibility, social enterprise, and sustainable finance. Harry has contributed to several media outlets, including Justmeans, GreenBiz, TriplePundit, and Sustainablog. You can follow Harry on Twitter: @Harry_Stevens

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