Over the past months, we have seen a wave of new legislation introduced across various states (Kansas, Mississippi, Arizona) which would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people by allowing them to choose not to serve LGBT clients. At the same time, the long-standing same-gender marriage debate continues as it has for years. In some states, the state attorneys general have stated that they are not going to defend their states’ anti-gay marriage amendments. In other states, most recently Texas, federal judges are declaring state bans on marriage unconstitutional. Meanwhile, mean-spirited legislators in additional states like Indiana are still attempting to add new constitutional amendments to ban gay marriages or unions.
Across the nation, much of the discussion has been around equal rights for all Americans under our Constitution and this is a very important foundational principle. But to that, I would like to add from a business and economic perspective, why these anti-gay initiatives are particularly disturbing. I offer three reasons:
1. They are a tremendous waste of money that should be invested elsewhere. Over the past decade, money contributed and spent by both sides of this issue has grown into hundreds of millions of dollars. In addition, the cost of processing the voting on these referendums, whether at the citizen or legislative level, is extremely costly. Imagine the positive progress that could be made to feed the hungry, offer skills development programs for children in the inner-city, to fund cancer or Alzheimer’s research at major universities, or any of the many other high priority programs, if all this money was invested there. And, not to speak of the economic development that could be stimulated with better investment of these funds.
2. They drain valuable national intellectual capital away from more important issues. In addition to all the wasted money from the first point above, hundreds of very intelligent people on both sides are spending hours of intellectual capital debating the issue, preparing court documents, lobbying legislators, fundraising and more. Again, as a nation, we should not only be investing our money in more pressing issues, but also our best minds. Developing economic policies and programs to build a stronger economy and devising innovative education programs to help us develop more talent in the math and science fields are much more critical than spending smart minds on issues around denying a segment of our society their equal rights. We should have already moved beyond that.
3. These initiatives create a second-class citizenry that could eventually be a drain on our economy instead of contributors. To compete in the global economy, a country, state or locale needs to have every single person working at the optimal capacity. American corporations have already long understood the importance of diversity — that valuing every single person empowers them to work at their very best and achieve outstanding results. Now, we as a nation (and other nations, too) need to understand that important principal. And, on the reverse side, studies on bullying have shown that people who are deemed as unworthy of equal treatment more often will resort to unhealthy choices such as violence or drugs, and later become a drain on the economic system instead of a contributor.
Let us all share the important message that we need to stop debating discriminatory laws, and instead let everyone have equal rights and shift our efforts to much more important issues. : :
— After a diverse and successful 31-year career at IBM, Stan C. Kimer founded Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer, offering innovative services in diversity management and career development.