Seattle's 'Gay Chamber' touts marriage equality's economic boost
by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Same-sex marriage became legal in New York a little over one year ago. Since then, New York City alone has benefited from the law to the tune of $259 million, according to Bloomberg News. This figure includes $55 million just from hotel stays.
'More than 200,000 guests have since traveled from outside of the city to attend same-sex wedding receptions, and more than 235,000 hotel room nights were booked at an average daily room rate of $275,' Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at an event commemorating the first full year of marriage equality in the state.
Money matters. We all know that. And, to be quite honest, so do benefits, protections - and, of course, love. You simply cannot have a discussion about marriage equality without talking about these things. But Washington state is not New York. So just how much would Washingtonians benefit from same-sex marriage?
'A Williams Institute study shows that spending on weddings and tourism by same-sex couples and their guests will add an estimated $88-million boost to the state and local economy in Washington, with $57 million in the first year alone,' Mona Smith, spokesperson for the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA), told SGN. 'This economic boost will likely add $8 million in state and local tax revenue.'
Since 1981, the GSBA has combined business development, leadership, and social action to expand economic opportunities for Seattle's LGBT community. The GSBA is known as the 'Gay Business Chamber' or 'Gay Chamber of Commerce' and is the largest LGBT and allied business chamber in the United States.
GSBA officials told SGN, 'Marriage is both good business and good for business.'
KEY TO ATTRACTING TALENT
'The new generation of workers are choosing where they want to live before where they want to work,' Smith said. 'Living, working, and playing in a state that is inclusive and diverse, and that supports equality for all of its citizens, are key values for these workers.'
Smith points out that an increasing number of employers recognize that in order to recruit and retain the best, brightest, and most innovative workers, companies need to create inclusive environments that provide benefits and protections of employees and their families.
'Marriage equality is good business,' she said, 'because it is good for the bottom line.'
Employers who care about their workers and their families and treat them fairly earn the respect and loyalty of their employees, which in turn results in greater productivity, less absenteeism, and longer employee retention, according to Smith.
'While some may believe that only companies with liberal executives support marriage equality, that is simply a myth,' she said. 'Liberal and conservative corporate executives alike understand the relationship and significance between marriage equality and business.'
As an example, Smith looks to a lifelong Republican, John Taft, CEO of RBC Wealth Management. Taft recently said that in today's competitive market, companies need to 'foster a welcoming and inclusive culture' in order to recruit the best talent, of which Gays and Lesbians are a 'critical source of quality employees.'
GSBA officials say marriage equality will bring more security to LGBT couples and families.
'Our families and our loving and committed relationships will be recognized and treated the same as opposite-sex families in the state of Washington,' said the GSBA in an email to SGN. 'However, we would say that all Washingtonians benefit from marriage equality, because we will be a state that is both diverse and inclusive of all who call Washington home.'
TOURISM ALSO BENEFITS
From an economic perspective, the GSBA has already played a critical role in increasing revenue for Washington businesses as well as generating state and local tax revenue through its Tourism Initiative, said officials.
In less than two years, the GSBA has contributed to making Seattle the ninth most popular LGBT travel destination in the United States. Prior to the GSBA's Tourism Initiative, Seattle was ranked 19th.
'As the Williams Institute study suggests, wedding and tourism industry-related businesses, including those businesses that are GSBA members, should see a bump in business from marriage equality,' said Smith. 'Large, medium, and small businesses including airlines, hotels, restaurants, bakeries, photographers, rental cars, dealerships, caterers, florists, wedding planners, clothing retailers, musicians, DJs, accountants, attorneys, financial planners, and more could benefit from marriage equality.'
The GSBA joined Washington United for Marriage, the campaign asking voters to Approve Referendum 74 in November, to keep the state's same-sex marriage law on the books.
'GSBA has been fighting for LGBT civil rights and equality for all from its inception in 1981,' said officials. 'Over the years, GSBA has been a leader in advocating for LGBT civil rights, domestic partnerships, and marriage equality. We have lobbied in the legislature and have filed amicus briefs in the courts. We played a key role in [2009's] Referendum 71, being a member of that campaign's organizing committee. Our commitment to social justice and equality and our role as a leader in the LGBT and business communities made it a natural choice to not only join the Washington United for Marriage Coalition, but to once again play a critical role as a member of the Coordinating Committee, making the business case for marriage equality and working with other business organizations and chambers of commerce and businesses to endorse marriage equality and support the campaign to Approve Referendum 74.'
MARRIAGE BELIEFS 'EVOLVED'
Louise Chernin, president and CEO of the GSBA, can relate to Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and President Barack Obama because, like them, her thinking on same-sex marriage also had to evolve. There was a time when Chernin did not believe anyone should get married.
As a long-time feminist, Chernin told SGN, 'I spent a lot of the '80s and '90s speaking out against the institution of marriage, since, as we all know, marriage was created to easily transfer property, including women as property.'
However, marriage as a civil right is a totally different story, she said.
'Marriage is recognized the world over as a way to acknowledge the depth of a relationship, of commitment between people who love each other and want to take care of each other, and [is] how we protect our families,' she said. 'When looked at it from this emotional, legal, and universal perspective, I find it incredible that our government, or any government, charged with providing its citizens equality under the law, can intentionally deny this basic civil right to a segment of its population.'
Chernin, who's been in a loving and committed relationship with partner Mary Klein for 21 years, continued, 'In this day and age, it is inconceivable that we are even discussing whether some loving relationships and families are more equal than others.'
'Trying to find a way to rationalize why certain rights, but not all rights, are given to some people, but not all people, makes a mockery of every civil rights law on the books,' she concluded.
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