Same-sex marriage ban is bad for business

  • Article by: JOHN TAFT
  • Updated: June 27, 2011 - 9:20 PM
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People hold signs thanking Governor Andrew Cuomo at the annual Heritage of Pride March, one of the world's oldest and largest gay pride parades, Sunday June 26, 2011, in New York. The parade became a victory celebration after New York's historic decision to legalize same-sex marriage on Friday.

Photo: Diane Bondareff, Associated Press

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One of the turning points in last week's vote by the New York state Legislature to legalize same-sex marriage was an open letter signed by two dozen high-profile CEOs, including Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and John Mack of Morgan Stanley, laying out the economic development rationale for the bill -- the need to attract and retain the best talent the world has to offer.

Let's hope voters are paying attention in Minnesota, where the conservative Republican Legislature voted last month to put on the November 2012 ballot a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to "one man and one woman."

Those same legislators are deadlocked with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton over the best path forward to solving a $5 billion deficit so as to maintain and improve the competitiveness of Minnesota's economy.

As the CEO of one of Minnesota's leading financial services firms, with almost 1,500 employees in the state, I believe the Minnesota ballot measure is bad for business and will hurt our state's competitiveness in the short and long term.

The single biggest business issue we face -- in individual businesses and as a state economy -- is attracting and retaining the best-educated, most-expert, most-talented and hardest-working employees we can. The challenge is to create communities inside and outside of the workplace where they feel valued and fully engaged.

Employee talent and employee engagement are key drivers not just for the success of individual businesses, but for Minnesota's economic future. Our winter climate and the perception of high tax rates already create recruitment challenges.

A highly visible ballot amendment that says to any employee group "you're not welcome" will add to those challenges by alienating current and prospective employees.

In today's economy, talent determines who wins and who loses. If we want to maintain our standing as one of the most economically vital states in the nation, we must demonstrate a commitment to creating open, healthy, equitable and tolerant communities in which the broadest range of current and prospective employees can live and work.

The key to business success in the future will be all about understanding and coping with diversity. The world is becoming more diverse, not less so. Businesses' ability to understand differences across client segments, respond to those differences and meet their needs will drive future success.

To do that well requires employee populations that are just as diverse as our clients and customers.

Creating disincentives for diverse employee groups won't help Minnesota be more competitive. It will hurt. At a time when states like New York are opening their doors to talent we can ill afford to shut ours.

Doing so is, plain and simple, bad for business.

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John Taft, who describes himself as a genetic Republican, is the great-grandson of U.S. President William Howard Taft. He is CEO of RBC Wealth Management U.S. and chairman of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.

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