Gay equality at work no thanks to governance

It’s a common myth that corporations aren’t progressive; that they are cold-hearted and driven only by the profit numbers shown in their bottom line.

However, it isn’t always the government that’s on the progressive side of the debate between profit and ethics. In fact, it’s sometimes precisely the opposite.

In the area of gay rights, for instance, the private sector is making significantly more headway – so much so, in fact, that governmental forces are impeding gay and lesbian progress toward equality in the business community.

The list of businesses getting on the gay rights bandwagon reads like a who’s who of America’s most profitable companies: Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase, Lehman Bros, McKinsey, Merrill Lynch, Target, Toyota, Proctor & Gamble and Microsoft, just to name a few. It’s hard to blame them. According to Fortune, gay and lesbian customers have a purchasing power estimated at $641 billion per year. Businesses don’t just want gays as customers, though – they want them as employees. Gays and lesbians are a potential talent pool just like any other group of people, and businesses simply can’t afford to exclude them.

For instance, Raytheon, a defense contractor that sells equipment such as tomahawk missiles to the government, provides health care benefits to the domestic partners of its gay employees. It’s doubtful that gays are buying tomahawk missiles, but Heyward Bell, Raytheon’s chief diversity officer, intimated it’s not about attracting customers. He told Fortune “Over the next 10 years we’re going to need anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 new employees. We can’t afford to turn our back on anyone in the talent pool.”

But the government doesn’t share the business community’s feeling that fairness is worthwhile when it comes to gays. Government has even taken action against business’s growing inclusiveness where it can – at state universities, for instance.

Ohio’s lawmakers sued Miami University for “violating a 2004 law banning same-sex marriage by making (domestic-partner) benefits available (to gays),” according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. The lawsuit was dismissed on the basis that the legislator who initiated the lawsuit “failed to show that he had been damaged ‘individually and concretely.”‘

It’s true that businesses probably do cost/benefit analyses about these policy decisions, but it would seem those analyses are coming up on the benefit side of the equation. Regardless of whether it’s a cold-hearted business decision – or, improbably, altruism – gays and lesbians are still being given equal rights by many of America’s foremost corporations. It is regrettable that our government, defender of our “inalienable rights,” has failed to follow suit.