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NY marriage equality is good for business

By Bob Witeck, Special to CNN
  • Beginning Sunday, same-sex marriage will be legal in New York
  • This will be a real game-changer for the American work force, Bob Witeck says
  • Witeck: Some estimate nearly $400 million in revenues for New York over the next three years
  • He says 78% of LGBT adults would prefer jobs in states that recognize marriage equality

Editor's note: Bob Witeck advises companies on business trends, demographics and issues of significance to LGBT stakeholders. He is co-founder and CEO of Witeck-Combs Communications, as well as author of "Business Inside Out: Capturing Millions of Brand Loyal Gay Consumers."

(CNN) -- Many New Yorkers and thousands of visitors this weekend may make last month's Gay Pride celebrations seem tepid. Beginning Sunday, New York's same-sex couples will become eligible for marriage licenses. Tens of thousands of those couples are expected to marry over the next few years, and their vows will resonate across America.

New York is the sixth state (plus Washington) to offer marriage equality for same-sex couples. To me, after two decades of consulting with business leaders, this moment truly feels personal. It not only arrives packed with emotion, it is a real game-changer for the American work force.

New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and city leaders must be cheering the economic shot in the arm as hotels, restaurants, caterers, florists and legions of vendors welcome the wedding and honeymoon brigades. Some estimate nearly $400 million in revenues for the state over the next three years.

These rewards are also the result of changing tides among American corporations and employers over recent decades. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's same-sex marriage legislation was endorsed not only by major corporations like Xerox and Google but by scores of smaller business owners across the state.

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First, many employers already "get it." Beginning in 1982 with New York's Village Voice, thousands of employers have added spousal-equivalent work benefits including health coverage for their workers with same-sex partners. Today, nearly 60% of Fortune 500 companies do so.

Treating same-sex partners and their families equally with other married couples is today as natural for corporate leaders as ending discrimination on race or ethnicity.

If employers give equal benefits to same-sex couples, why worry about marital status? Ask employers in New Jersey, where same-sex civil unions are the law instead. Civil unions, domestic partnerships and other makeshift legal arrangements offer some measure of legal protection. But real-world experience shows that they do not measure up in crucial ways.

"Marriage lite" not only creates a social apartheid among families, it opens significant gaps, confusion and conflicts that businesses confront in areas such as survivor benefits, pensions and bankruptcies, along with disparate tax treatment at the state and federal level.

Are you or someone you know having a same-sex marriage ceremony in New York on Sunday? Share your story.

Keeping it simple and consistent are important to businesses. The power of New York's business allies suggests that states with civil unions, such as New Jersey, Illinois and Rhode Island, will find the marriage-equality trend appealing and inevitable.

Furthermore, administering payrolls and maintaining accurate, timely benefits and tax withholding procedures can strain any employer. When you add the complexity that accompanies different marital and tax status for many couples, from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and workplace to workplace, it is another unacceptable and costly burden on business.

Sooner rather than later, chambers of commerce will recognize that their best interests are served by the simplicity, uniformity and cost savings that come with marriage equality across the nation.

As more states follow New York, and as independent federal litigation progresses, the likelihood will grow that either federal courts or Congress ultimately will dismantle the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. That law prevents federal recognition of states' same-sex marriage laws and codifies the right of other states to not recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Simply put, a Kansas employer need not recognize a couple's New York marriage license.

Even in a sluggish economy like ours, successful business performance has an unquenchable appetite for strong human performance and top talent. It is not surprising that some of America's leading companies are actively recruiting and rewarding their openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers and assigning them to more leading and executive roles.

The competition for superior talent goes hand in hand with appealing communities and welcoming cultures. Very few LGBT executives and managers will eagerly await employment transfer, with spouses and children too, to states and cities that insist on denying equal legal protections and stability.

Increasingly, same-sex couples will align their ambitions with their best interests in choosing to live and work in states that offer them the full respect and equal treatment under the law they need and wish for their families.

In fact, in a Harris Poll released this week, 78% of all LGBT adults said that, other factors being equal, they would prefer jobs in states that recognize marriage equality. Nearly half went farther by saying they would even consider declining job promotions if it required a transfer for themselves or their family to a hostile state or jurisdiction.

It's clear that New York and its 19 million residents is the pivot now. With marriage equality ingrained in America's capital of commerce, the trend toward business engagement will also accelerate -- and give us the best example yet of the economic benefits and progress awaiting us.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Witeck.

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