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Why the Religious Right's NC Constitutional Ban On Gay Marriage Will Hurt the State Economy


The religious right, with Billy Graham himself weighing in, has just convinced North Carolina voters to undermine their own economic well-being. I doubt many North Carolina residents asked, in the abstract, whether they would vote to sabotage their own state's economy would answer "yes!" But that's what 61% of Tar Heel state voters have probably just done.

NC's misleadingly titled "Defense of Marriage Act", just voted into the NC state constitution, probably won't have any impact on the institution of straight marriage in North Carolina, judging by the Massachusetts experience. But it likely will hurt the NC economy. That's the irony. It's not just that LGBTI Americans will be less inclined to spend their tourism dollars in NC - research shows that anti-gay bigotry is bad for the economy other ways too.

[below: A classic 2006 Daily Show spoof examines religious right's claim that gay marriage has destroyed Massachusetts. ]

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As researcher Richard Florida has demonstrated, American urban areas that can attract "cultural creatives" - especially intelligent, talented residents - do better economically, and attracting gay residents is an important part of that. As Florida described in a 2003 USA Today op-ed,

"Research I conducted with Gary Gates, an Urban Institute demographer, shows that the big new-ideas and cutting-edge industries that lead to sustained prosperity are more likely to exist where gay people feel welcome. Most centers of tech-based business growth also have the highest concentrations of gay couples. Conversely, major areas with relatively few gay couples tend to be slow- or no-growth places. "

There's a more subtle component to Florida's argument - he also points out that diversity, in itself, confers an economic advantage - because gay-rights friendly areas also tend to be more accepting of ethnic and cultural diversity in general. "Tolerance", or even outright support, for LGBTI rights works as a rather accurate proxy for acceptance of diversity in general, and diversity tends to spur innovation. Wrote Florida, in his USA Today column,

"Creative, innovative and entrepreneurial activities tend to flourish in the same kinds of places that attract gays and others outside the norm. To put it bluntly, a place where it's OK for men to walk down the street holding hands will probably also be a place where Indian engineers, tattooed software geeks and foreign-born entrepreneurs feel at home. When people from varied backgrounds, places and attitudes can collide, economic home runs are likely."

This is far from a new phenomenon, I would point out -- for thousands of years, port cities - mercantile hubs which have for obvious reasons enjoyed high levels of ethnic and cultural diversity - have been known for their exceptional economic prosperity.  

What is most astounding about yesterday's decision, by sixty one percent of North Carolina voters, to enshrine a radically restrictive anti-gay rights amendment barring not only same-sex marriage in the NC state constitution, but also banning civil unions and domestic partnerships for both gay and straight couples, is the likelihood that South Carolina voters of the "Tar Heel" state have just sent a resounding message to exceptionally talented and economically valuable young Americans from a wide range of minority groups -- not just LGBTI citizens but Asian and Hispanic Americans, indeed just about any American minority group one cares to think of -- "you're probably not welcome here".

It's unlikely that my own gay rights-friendly state, Massachusetts, will see an immediate flood of established, disgruntled gay couples fleeing institutionalized repression in the South, resettling to the Bay State. The results will be more gradual. But over time more exceptionally talented young gay and minority American citizens will opt to settle in the Bay State, where they're obviously more welcome.