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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Economic Case for Gay Equality

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Gay equality is more than just a matter of fairness— it’s also good for the economy. The estimated 15.3 million gay adults in the United States have a combined buying power of more than $660 billion, and it’s estimated to grow to $835 billion by 2011, according to Witeck-Combs Communications, a strategic marketing communications firm. And same-sex marriage may make gay Americans even more important to the economy. As California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose state’s Supreme Court recently approved gay marriage, put it, “I’m wishing everyone good luck with their marriages and I hope that California’s economy is booming because everyone is going to come here and get married.”

But the revenue from flowers and catered meals are just a trickle compared to the full economic benefits to any state that welcomes same-sex couples not only to marry, but to put down roots as well. When compared to the general population, gays and lesbians have higher incomes and are more likely to hold a college degree and to engage in entrepreneurial business activities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Gay people are more likely to move into and devote income to improving distressed neighborhoods, which sets the cycle neighborhood improvement in motion, according to researcher Richard Florida. Wisconsin’s business community has a mixed record on welcoming this key demographic group. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce declined to comment on this story, and a search for the word “gay” on the WMC Web site returned zero hits.

Yet FUEL Milwaukee, an offshoot of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), has been working to enlighten area employers about the benefits of attracting and retaining gay and lesbian workers. “As more baby boomers retire, companies are feeling the pinch of a shrinking talent pool,” said Shelley Jurewicz, vice president of regional talent for MMAC.

“Offering domestic partner benefits, as more and more are, is smart business, and it makes a company more attractive to that shrinking talent pool.” Domestic partnership benefits aren’t the only way to attract more gays and lesbians to the state. Denise Cawley, chair of Q-Share business network, a recently formed LGBT business group, said that allowing same-sex couples to adopt children is a top priority.

Cawley, who is a paid consultant to Cream City Foundation, is launching a major public relations campaign this summer to promote LGBT equality. Billboards throughout southeastern Wisconsin will feature images of gay families. “Wisconsin is so behind the rest of the country in our laws about families,” Cawley said.



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