Same-sex marriage features unlikely champion

  • Article by: SUSANNE CRAIG , New York Times
  • Updated: February 5, 2012 - 9:12 PM

Leader of Wall Street investment giant could become a powerful voice for the movement backing gay marriages.

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Behind the scenes, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein has long been an advocate for same-sex marriage. Now, he’s going public.

Photo: Olivier Douliery, Abaca Press

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Lloyd Blankfein, the chief of Goldman Sachs who has become a lightning rod for Wall Street critics, might seem an unlikely advocate for same-sex marriage. But his credentials -- a public figure in a conservative industry -- could make him a powerful voice for that cause.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national organization that promotes equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, has recruited Blankfein to be its first national corporate spokesman for same-sex marriage, an issue that will come up for a legislative vote in several states this year, including Washington and Maryland. A constitutional ban on gay marriage is on the ballot this year in Minnesota.

As part of a national effort, Blankfein appears in a 32-second Web spot intended to drum up support and donations.

Fred Sainz, an executive with the Human Rights Campaign, said the organization sought Blankfein, in part, because he is "an unexpected messenger."

"Lloyd Blankfein is not someone average Americans would think is going to support marriage equality," Sainz said. "The green visor crowd is not typically associated with socially progressive policies, and this is further proof that a diversity of Americans are coming to the same conclusion."

With this national campaign, Blankfein is stepping onto a prominent and politically charged stage. In recent years, he has been pilloried for outsize pay packages and rewarding the type of risk-taking that led to the financial crisis.

As the tumult fades, industry watchers are wondering about his second act. Blankfein, who has run the investment giant since 2006, is one of the longest-tenured chief executives on Wall Street, and speculation is mounting that he will hand over the reins to a deputy this year.

Although he has long supported same-sex marriage, his move could be seen as a public relations play, albeit one with unclear results. The affiliation with a liberal organization could also alienate conservatives who do business with the firm.

Through a spokesman, Blankfein declined to comment.

Behind the scenes, Blankfein has long been a supporter of same-sex marriage. Last year, he signed a letter urging New York state lawmakers to vote for a bill legalizing same-sex marriage and encouraged other chief executives to do the same. He also called lawmakers directly on the matter. The New York Legislature passed the law last summer. Under Blankfein's guidance, Goldman has also pushed employment policies that promote equality. It reimburses employees for the extra taxes they pay on domestic partner benefits. In 2002, the company made headlines for offering gender reassignment operations to employees.

At a dinner on Saturday in New York, the Human Rights Commission awarded Goldman its corporate equality award.

Blankfein is married to Laura Jacobs Blankfein, a lawyer. They have three children.

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