Is Gay Marriage an Economic Development Plan?

Is Gay Marriage an Economic Development Plan?

By Maggie Gallagher - March 22, 2011

The arguments for gay marriage get ever stranger:

This week in Indiana, Jill Cook, an executive from engine-maker Cummins Inc., testified that a proposed state marriage amendment "jeopardizes our ability to be competitive in global markets."

I hope Cook was not testifying under oath, because that's an amazing whopper of a claim, and one that we are hearing more and more often.

In Rhode Island, newly elected Gov. Lincoln Chafee actually touts gay marriage as key to his economic development plan for Rhode Island.

Chafee brandishes the 2007 book "The Flight of the Creative Class" by professor Richard Florida to make his weird case. As columnist Edward Fitzpatrick of The Providence Journal noted, Chafee talked about Florida's book when he first chaired the state's economic development corporation board. During the Feb. 6 edition of Providence NBC-affiliate WJAR's "10 News Conference," Chafee paired gay marriage with repealing a measure requiring employers to verify legal status as twin necessities for economic growth. In his inaugural address, Chafee actually claimed passing gay marriage would do "more for economic growth in our state than any economic development loan."

Clearly, a strange new meme has been launched. The people launching it must believe themselves immune from rational scrutiny. What's the evidence that state marriage amendments hurt, or that gay marriage helps, economic growth?

Well, consider the state-level data on per capita personal income growth between 1999 and 2009, published by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The top five states for income growth in that decade are: Wyoming, North Dakota, Louisiana, Montana and Oklahoma. Four of the five states with the fastest income growth per capita have state marriage amendments, and none have gay marriage.

Or consider another potential measure of a state's business climate: What do CEOs think? Chief Executive magazine annually surveys 543 CEOs to identify which states are the best and the worst for job growth and business. In 2009, the top five states for job growth in CEOs' opinions were: Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. Four out of five have marriage amendments, and none have gay marriage.

(The worst? California, New York, Michigan, New Jersey, and yes, Massachusetts.)

Or consider another data point that comes from a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey, "Enterprising States," which includes a ranking for what it called "middle-class job growth." These are presumably the good jobs that the creative class seeks or fosters.

The top five states for middle-class job growth between 2002 and 2009 are: Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, Hawaii and Texas. Once again, four out of the five have state marriage amendments, and none have gay marriage.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also compiles a list of states that are the top "overall growth performers": North Dakota, Virginia, South Dakota, Maryland and Wyoming. The top three all have state marriage amendments, and none have gay marriage. (Indeed, Maryland's legislature -- in a surprise move -- rejected a gay marriage bill this month after a large public outpouring of objections, including from black churches.)

Perhaps if social conservatives in Wyoming succeed in passing a marriage amendment, middle-class job growth will come plunging to a halt, but somehow I doubt it.

The tiny number of liberal Northeastern states that have embraced gay marriage tend to have high per capita incomes because they are much older, much whiter and better educated than average. They are older, in part, because with so little job growth, young families move elsewhere, most likely to a state with a marriage amendment and more robust economic growth.

Why would a reputable company like Cummins Inc. embarrass itself in public by making such a ludicrous claim?

I cannot tell you. But I can tell you that in early March, Cummins' CEO Tim Solso was appointed to President Obama's Presidential Management Advisory Board.

A bit of behind-the-scenes back-scratching?

We'll never know for sure.

One thing we do know for sure: If gay marriage is a big part of your governor's or your business leaders' idea of an economic development plan, your state is in big trouble.

Copyright 2011, Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher

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