Experts say marriage ban will hurt state’s economy after DOMA ruling as LGBT workers flock to places where they can get federal benefits



ANNA WAUGH  |  News Editor

In the wake of two historic victories for same-sex marriage at the U.S. Supreme Court, national attention has returned to the growing divide among states on LGBT equality.

Although same-sex couples legally married in other states may receive some federal benefits if they live in Texas, they won’t receive as many federal benefits as couples living in marriage-equality states.

And because it could be anywhere from a few years to a decade or more before Texas recognizes same-sex marriages, some experts believe the talent pool for employers will shrink as LGBT Texans leave the state and others opt against relocating here.

Bob Witeck, president of the Washington, D.C.-based LGBT marketing company Witeck Communications Inc., first analyzed the concept of “gay brain drain” in 2004 when Massachusetts began allowing same-sex marriage. Now, 13 states allow same-sex marriage, covering a third of the nation’s population, and the playing field has put marriage-equality states ahead.

Places with marriage equality like New York, Washington, D.C. and California that also have a lot of talent compete with states like Texas and Illinois for employees and companies to boost state revenue. But unlike Illinois, which is in line to have marriage equality, Witeck said Texas is lagging behind strong business states because of its focus on social issues.

“They’re going to be reluctant to move to a state where their family isn’t recognized under the law,” Witeck said of LGBT employees, adding that others will move away.

Gov. Rick Perry has become known for his business recruiting trips to blue states, touting Texas’ low regulations and taxes, but some say the effectiveness of those trips has been overshadowed by his anti-gay, anti-women political views. Witeck said GOP politicians in Texas haven’t caught up to conservative business leaders — many of them also Republicans — who value the economic opportunity from LGBT equality and same-sex marriage.

“It deepens the challenges in corporate America to speak to these inequities,” he said. “It’s going to create the impression that [marriage-equality states are] forward thinkers and the others are not.”

Perry may soon find the reasons companies aren’t bringing their businesses to Texas. He signed HB 2482 in June that will create a study to determine why major companies have chosen to invest or relocate to other states after considering Texas.

Representatives from Perry’s office didn’t return calls seeking comment for this story.

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, said while a gay brain drain is possible, the full effect of the high court’s rulings may not be felt for a few years.

“I think there will be some danger of something like that happening,” Henson said. “It’s too early to tell. …What we’re more likely to see than a brain drain is a reluctance of people who want marriage equality to move here in the short term.”

Henson said Republican lawmakers’ views are lagging behind public opinion.

A June UT/Texas tribune poll shows 39 percent of Texans support gay marriage and 30 percent support civil unions.

“The real leader is going to be political opinion,” he said. “It’s changing rapidly, but it’s changing less rapidly among Republicans.”

A November study by the Williams Institute, a prominent LGBT think tank at UCLA, estimated that Texas would generate $182.5 million in revenue in the first three years if it legalized same-sex marriage. The estimate was based on 2010 Census data for same-sex couples who live together if 50 percent married.

Tony Vedda, president of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, said Perry’s efforts are pointless if he and other Republican leaders don’t see the benefits of an inclusive workforce. He said businesses should stop viewing marriage equality as a gay issue because it affects society as a whole.

“Economic development groups, chambers of commerce and the governor’s office continue their efforts to attract businesses to Texas while shooting themselves in the foot with the state’s lack of equality,” he said. “Intentional or not, some businesses will certainly move to Texas; but I’m willing to bet that a good deal of them will not.”

Chuck Smith, executive director of the statewide LGBT advocacy group Equality Texas, said most major companies already offer competitive benefits to LGBT employees and “we’re reaching a point where Texas is less competitive among other states.”

“I think it will be increasingly important for Texas to address policies that treat a component of the labor force unfairly,” Smith said.

For places like Dallas, Austin and Houston where companies and cities have LGBT-inclusive polices, officials and employers are concerned about losing talent and being able to recruit future talent. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said he’s concerned about LGBT people leaving the city and avoiding moving to Texas altogether.

“My goal has always been to attract young, smart people to Dallas and this ruling could make our city less attractive for the LGBT community,” Rawlings said this week.

John Cramer, CEO of AT&T’s LGBT resource group LEAGUE, said management at Dallas-based AT&T has already discussed the possibly of being able to retain and attract LGBT employees and have begun brainstorming on how to remain competitive.

“AT&T is looking into this issue and met with folks inside and outside the network to see what other companies are doing,” Cramer said.

AT&T is among companies that have consistently received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. Deena Fidas, deputy director of the HRC’s Workplace Project, said business engagement is a part of the organization’s strategy to achieve equality in conservative states like Texas.

She said businesses can help fight for equality by having equal polices and benefits and lobbying state Legislatures for inclusive laws.

“They on their own can offer protections above and beyond what’s offered at a state and federal level,” Fidas said. “Businesses are not going to be bystanders in the fight for full 50-state equality for all.”

Sam McClure, spokeswoman for the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, said major corporations have had concerns about recruitment and retention long before last week’s rulings. McClure added that the decisions only increase pressure for states and NCLCC and other business leaders across the country would continue their work to end inequity in every state.

“If a household headed by a same-sex couple can organize and protect their family, their wealth and assets more effectively in one state more than another, then it stands to reason that’s a choice they will consider,” McClure said. “For states that want to have a strong economy, keeping laws on the books that effectively bar certain segments of the population from fully participating in the economy is simply counter-productive.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 5, 2013.