Why Walker's anti-gay agenda is bad for business

Whenever anyone in the media writes anything in defense of gay rights – no matter how basic those rights are or how indecent violating them might be – they get a letter or comment that goes something like this:

"Screw you, you ugly *#$. I can tell from your picture your [sic] a filthy *#$. Dont [sic] ever come to [insert name of town whose chief export is deer carcasses] or I'll kick your [insert adjectival form of slur for gay person] *#$."

I have three standard responses to this:

1) Thanks. It's always nice to hear from old middle-school teachers.

2) I simply don't think there's anything wrong with being gay, so your comment is really just white noise. To me, homosexuality is just like any other morally neutral preference that I happen not to share. I have a few gay friends, and their "gayness" hardly interests me. It's just another trait among many, and hardly the dominant one.

3) Despite your implication, I happen not to be gay. I mean, you should see the conspicuous affection I lavish on my wife while we're out antiquing.

Of course, I only mention it because I'm about to jump into that dangerous fray. Here goes.

Last week, Gov. Scott Walker announced that he no longer intends to defend the state's domestic partner registry law in court, claiming that it's unconstitutional. The law – which gives people in gay relationships certain rights, including the right to make end-of-life decisions on behalf of their partners, make hospital visits, and inherit one another's property – is being challenged by the conservative group Wisconsin Family Action, which claims that it violates our constitution's ban on gay marriage.

This move by the governor is so astoundingly cruel, I have to wonder if he knows any gay people or has ever been witness to a long-term gay relationship. Unlike the collective bargaining issue, which a devil's advocate could at least contend is about rescuing the state from financial ruin, this decision appears to be nothing more than a mean-spirited and completely unnecessary swipe at gay couples.

Of course, Walker's whole raison d'etre, other than making Wisconsin residents nostalgic for the days when the state was covered by glaciers, is to improve our state's business climate.

So if common decency won't impel him to reconsider his actions, maybe common sense will:

Governor, how exactly does denying gay people rights make our state hospitable to businesses? How does it make gay business owners feel welcome in Wisconsin? How does it motivate gay consumers to spend money here? How does it encourage gay workers to stay or move here and contribute to the state's economic development and tax base?

Have you thought about any of that? Or are you simply hoping to banish gays from the state entirely so no one points out that you've apparently been purchasing your shirts from a Hayward big and tall store?

As a matter of fact, there's evidence to show that being accepting of gays is an economic plus for a given area.

Richard Florida, the author of The Rise of the Creative Class, and How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, has concluded that areas that welcome gays and lesbians are more likely to thrive economically than those that don't.

Writes Florida: "[I]n 1998, I met Gary Gates, then a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon. While I had been studying the location choices of high-tech industries and talented people, Gates had been exploring the location patterns of gay people. My list of the country's high-tech hot spots looked an awful lot like his list of the places with highest concentrations of gay people. When we compared these two lists with more statistical rigor, his Gay Index turned out to correlate very strongly to my own measures of high-tech growth. …

"Talented people seek an environment open to differences. Many highly creative people, regardless of ethnic background or sexual orientation, grew up feeling like outsiders, different in some way from most of their schoolmates. When they are sizing up a new company and community, acceptance of diversity and of gays in particular is a sign that reads 'non-standard people welcome here.'"

So, governor, if your intention is to turn Wisconsin into an economically stagnant backwater that embarrasses everyone within its borders and makes Mississippi look progressive, you're on the right track. Let's just hope that, this time, you change your mind.

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