Studies have shown that an openness to diversity and a welcoming atmosphere for LGBT citizens enhances a city or state's economic vibrancy and is in the final analysis good for business and economic well being. Indeed, such an atmosphere makes a city more attractive to the so-called creative class and there is a strong correlation between how a city or region scores on Richard Florida's "gay index" and how it does with attracting high tech companies.
As The Advocate is reporting, increasingly progressive businesses will opt to avoid cities and localities that do not oppose discrimination against LGBT citizens and employees. Sadly, this reality is largely lost on most political leaders in Virginia, especially those in the Republican Party who grovel to the reactionary and theocratic dictates of The Family Foundation based in Richmond.
But things are changing - even in Virginia.
This week Hampton Mayor Molly Ward (pictured) joined mayors across America who have signed the freedom to marry pledge originated by the organization Freedom to Marry. In doing so, she joins Alexandria, Virginia mayor, William Euille, and Charlottesville mayor, Satyendra Singh Huja, the only other Virginia mayors who to my knowledge have likewise signed the pledge.
In some states signing such a pledge is not a big deal, but in Virginia, it is indeed a big deal and requires real political courage. Here are key excerpts from the Mayors for Freedom to Marry Pledge:
As mayors of great American cities, we proudly stand together in support of the freedom of same-sex couples to marry. We personally know many gay and lesbian people living in our cities who are in committed, loving relationships, who are active participants in the civic life of our communities, and who deserve to be able to marry the person with whom they share their life.
We are proud that at its 2009 annual meeting, the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously approved a resolution stating that: "The U.S. Conference of Mayors supports marriage equality for same-sex couples, and the recognition and extension of full equal rights to such unions, including family and medical leave, tax equity, and insurance and retirement benefits, and opposes the enshrinement of discrimination in the federal or state constitutions."
Our cities derive great strength from their diversity, and gay and lesbian families are a crucial part. Studies have shown what we know through our hands-on experience--that cities that celebrate and cultivate diversity are the places where creativity and ideas thrive. They are the places where today's entrepreneurs are most likely to choose to build the businesses of tomorrow. Allowing same-sex couples the right to marry enhances our ability to build this kind of environment, which is good for all of us.
We stand for the freedom to marry because it enhances the economic competitiveness of our communities, improves the lives of families that call our cities home, and is simply the right thing to do. We look forward to working to build an America where all people can share in the love and commitment of marriage with the person with whom they share their life.
Mayor Ward is a good friend and I am honored to know her. She realizes that the City of Hampton's future is best served by supporting diversity and full equality of citizens under the civil laws in all their aspects. To the extent she receives blow back from "conservatives," I hope she points out this quote from The Advocate article:
Marianna Smith is a lawyer and board member at an unidentified company. She writes in the The Florida Times-Union that the CEO of the company she serves on the board of refused to relocate to Jacksonville after the council rejected the ordinance. The CEO was also affected by antigay letters and op-eds that appeared in local newspapers.
Jacksonville lost this company because of the results of the anti-discrimination bill vote.
I have served as a director on other international boards, and I can promise you that those companies would also decline Jacksonville as a headquarters home in view of the way our council and some citizens responded to a call for equal rights.
Hopefully more mayors in Virginia will see this reality and have the courage to to refuse to continue looking backwards in time and bowing to bigotry and discrimination.