Same Sex Marriage as Economic Imperative

(originally published in Asian Fortune September 2012 issue,

This November, in addition to voting for the President of the United States, voters in Maryland will have an opportunity to decide whether same sex marriage, which became law in Maryland earlier this year, should remain legal.

Whichever side of the issue you are on, same sex marriage, which allows people of the same sex to enter into a legally sanctioned long-term commitment as a couple, is often framed as a moral issue by its opponents and as a human rights issue by its supporters. What’s missing in the discussion, however, is that it is also an economic imperative.

No, I am not just talking about the wedding planners and a whole host of other industries that can clearly benefit from more people getting married. I am talking about our state’s ability to attract and retain the best and the brightest—no matter who they are—to build families, careers, and businesses here, and to fuel the entrepreneurial culture that the national capital region badly needs.

In his famous book published a decade ago, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” urban studies theorist and creative class guru Richard Florida argued that a locale that attracts gays is also a community that thrives. It is no coincidence that places like California and Massachusetts, both known for breeding and attracting entrepreneurs, also happen to be gay-friendly states.

Whether a state recognizes same-sex marriage speaks volumes about that community’s level of tolerance for differences, for people who have the courage to be who they are and pursue their personal happiness. Entrepreneurs are risk-takers who don’t care to conform to the norm and who are often considered different from the rest of us. Their success requires a tolerant culture and a nurturing environment, which cannot be achieved by simply building more incubators or creating more small business mentoring programs.

Maryland is transforming itself from a small state at the backyard of Washington, DC to a destination for jobs and innovation. We need all the talent we can get, gay or not. The last thing we want is to let our ideologies get in the way of our ability to attract human capital.

Will Maryland get it right when we go to the polls on November 6? History teaches us that the majority doesn’t always get it right. Remember de-segregation of public schools in the South? Left to voters in other states, same sex marriage was voted down every single time because it only benefits a small group of people and the majority has no incentive to support something that challenges their concept of marriage and family. Social issues that protect the minorities’ basic rights should not be determined by the majority or we probably would not have advanced to this point as a society.

As marriage becomes less about reproduction and child-rearing and more about companionship, a childless marriage between a homosexual or heterosexual couple would be very similar, except in the eyes of others who choose to judge it. The fact that heterosexual marriage as an institution has failed many couples in this country has not led many people to question the sanity of marriage as an institution because the right to marry for a man and a woman has been a privilege we have taken for granted. The rest have to wait, beg, and fight.

Many in the immigrant communities have a hard time accepting gay marriage, as I did years ago. I was first exposed to homophobic issues about 15 years ago while serving as a resident director on a college campus. Since then, I have worked with bosses and colleagues, and made friends who are gays or lesbians.

Giving everyone the equal right to marry their loved ones is not just the right thing to do, but also a wise economic policy that would boost our attractiveness and competitiveness as a locale and a community, not to mention that gay Americans are among the best educated and highest income-earners of all Americans. I hope that Maryland, the state I have come to call home, can live up to its name as a “free state” where people of all faiths, ethnicities and life styles, can be free from prejudices and legal discrimination and be able to call this place home.