Would giving same-sex couples the right to marry boost the economy? Perhaps so. In his 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida argued that LGBT-friendly places tend to attract talented, creative people of all orientations who are looking for tolerant, vibrant, and interesting places to live and work. Florida believes that attracting creative talent is vital to a region’s success in the modern economy, and famously asserted that “the legalization of gay marriage is one of the great talent attraction packages of the last hundred years.”
Gauged by the strong business support for Washington’s marriage-equality referendum this November, there may be something to Florida’s thesis. Some of the Northwest’s most successful enterprises—Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Alcoa, Nike, Google, and Nordstrom, to name a few—have given marriage equality their public backing. These companies, and many others, seem to be betting that backing marriage equality will boost their bottom lines, helping them attract and retain top-notch talent, while putting themselves in the good graces of a public that is increasingly supportive of LGBT rights.
Still, Dr. Florida’s “creative class” theory of economic growth has taken its knocks over the years. Critics on the right argue that tolerance may be well and good, but isn’t particularly important to a thriving economy. Critics on the left argue that steps to cultivate a “creative class” may be irrelevant to the concerns of the poor and middle class. Without doubt, the economic debate will rage for years.
Yet for marriage equality, economics is simply beside the point.
Marriage equality isn’t simply a matter of costs and benefits, of red ink and balance sheets. It’s a matter of human dignity. It would be the right thing to do even if the Northwest’s businesses had remained on the sidelines.
The economy, after all, isn’t an end. It’s a means. Human well-being is the end. The economy exists simply to ensure that we all have the opportunity to pursue joy, dignity, and meaning in our lives. (Remember that whole “pursuit of happiness” thing in the Declaration of Independence?) Denying basic rights—including the right to enter a consensual marriage with the partner of one’s choosing—thwarts our shared goals of allowing all citizens to seek the kinds of personal contentment and security that a legally sanctioned marriage contract can offer.
Achieving sustainability in all its dimensions means ensuring the well-being of people as well as nature. But in too many cases, our laws and institutions put up unnecessary roadblocks to sustainability. For years, Sightline has been arguing that Northwesterners should dismantle those roadblocks, by altering our laws, policies and institutions to free all citizens to take steps to further sustainability—the well-being of people and nature—in their own lives. We call this idea “making sustainability legal.”
This autumn, approving R-74 is one of the most important ways that Washingtonians can help make sustainability legal. Its urgency transcends mere economics, with far-reaching effects that will be tallied not in money but in dignity, equity, and the advancement of human rights.