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The last day of Out & Equal’s 2010 Workplace Summit kicked off with the first-ever Marriage Equality Breakfast. As the feature event of Out & Equal’s initiative to focus greater attention on developing a strong business case for marriage equality, the Breakfast drew a crowd of 150 attendees.
A featured panel comprised of Google manager Carrie Farrell, attorney David Codell, GLAD attorney Janson Wu, and renowned diversity consultant Brian McNaught addressed marriage equality. Moderating the panel was CEO and Co-Founder of Witeck-Combs Communications, Bob Witeck.
A map of the United States – color-coded to show the various different laws regarding same-sex marriage in each state – prompted the panelists to begin their discussions about marriage equality. The plethora of colors represented the complicated patchwork of laws, protections, and restrictions pertaining to same-sex marriage that differed from state to state – speaking to the huge legal obstacles same-sex couples, and importantly, businesses face today.
Referring to the resultant rainbow colors on the map, Janson Wu remarked, “You can tell that it was designed by a gay person,” prompting laughter from the audience, but also speaking to the huge legal obstacles same-sex couples and businesses face today.
Each of the panelists put forth their own idea about how and why corporations in the United States are in the unique position to create change. David Codell offered a legal perspective, referring to the 60+ corporations that signed on to an amicus brief for Affirmative Action. “The Chamber of Commerce has empirically had a huge impact on Supreme Court decisions,” he stated, “companies have the power and need to fight for equal benefits laws.”
“Google is about equality,” continued Carrie Farrell. “It is the chilling effect Prop 8 had on our employees that lead us to publicly oppose Prop 8.” “It’s the right thing to do.
What was perhaps the most important theme of the morning was the theme that individuals in corporations have the power to get their companies to create change. “If we provide value to corporations, they will accommodate what we ask for.” Brian McNaught remarked. Addressing the audience, Brian stated “It’s not just a legal organization like GLAD that creates change. We need to give ourselves credit. You did this by creating change from within the companies you work at. You did this.”
Moderator Bob Witeck added to this theme of individual power by saying “Most of us like our corporate jobs – most of us want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem” “We have to see businesses as our natural allies in the fight for marriage equality because we work for corporations.”
The panelists then took time to answer questions from the audience, answering specific questions about how best to articulate the business case for marriage equality to an audience that might not be comfortable with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. The panelists responded with a diversity of different solutions, including arguments about employee productivity, competitive edge, and tips on methods for relating to an employer on a personal level. In particular, there was a strong emphasis on the fact that the business case for marriage equality was a case with concrete financial impacts. “It is incredibly costly for businesses to manage two different systems,” Janson Wu remarked, “It costs an estimated 57 million dollars a year for corporations to work around DOMA and the patchwork of laws in the status quo.
Breakfast participants also took a turn at answering one another’s questions, with one participant raising her hand to share her experiences at her company. “It doesn’t happen until you ask. It’s important to keep asking for change,” she stated.
Concluding the Breakfast with comments about the future of marriage equality, the majority of the panelists agreed that although it is a time of great change and optimism, the fight is an ongoing one, and it is one that more businesses need to join in on.
Brian McNaught brought the successful, first-ever Breakfast to a close by remarking, “The more of us who come out and love ourselves, the more we can change the world.”