May 3, 2012
By Jacob Combs
When Cathy Bessant, a top executive at Bank of America a former chair of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, came out against Amendment One, it was, as our very own Adam Bink put it, a “BFD.” B of A’s global headquarters is in Charlotte, North Carolina, and it employs several thousand North Carolinians, making Charlotte the nation’s second largest banking center after New York. Bessant said that Amendment One would be harmful for businesses and for North Carolina’s economic development as a state, predicting that its passage would have a “disastrous effect on our ability to attract talent and retain talent.”
Then there was Jim Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy, a Fortune 500 company, who said that passing Amendment One would be tantamount to “sending a message to the world about what kind of community this is; that we’re not inclusive.” He likened the amendment to the Jim Crow laws which were used to discriminate against African-Americans, saying that North Carolinians would look back in 10 or 20 years and be embarrassed about the measure they had passed.
But beyond these assuredly high-profile individual statements against Amendment One, the public response from the North Carolina business committee has been extremely muted. As a whole, the state’s largest companies and chamber of commerce groups simply haven’t taken a stand on the amendment, despite the fact that it could have significant repercussions for their gay and straight employees alike.
Contrast that with the marriage equality campaign that took place earlier this year in Washington state, which featured high-profile endorsements by some of the biggest employers in the Pacific Northwest. Starbucks came out for marriage equality, calling the equal treatment of its employees “core to who we are and what we value as a company.” Microsoft endorsed the marriage equality bill as well, as did Nike. Similarly, in New York during the months leading up to a successful summer vote for marriage equality, over 20 business leaders representing firms such as Goldman Sachs, Tishman Speyer and Morgan Stanley wrote an open letter to state legislators urging them to vote yes on the legislation.
North Carolina, of course, is a different state than liberal New York or Washington; in fact, it’s arguably one of the few truly purple states in America. Although the momentum in the campaign is shifting, Amendment One has looked like either a sure win or a reachable win for the measure’s backers, and a major corporation coming out on the losing side of such a campaign could be embarrassing. And even though the state’s companies have shied away from taking public stands on the ballot measure, those companies’ individual employees have not. A short documentary on Amendment One by the Raleigh TV station WRAL highlighted a letter signed by 75 CEOs opposing Amendment One. Even more incredibly, WRAL could not find one pro-Amendment One CEO.
Still, Amendment One is not a marriage equality measure, and doesn’t require companies to make a bold statement on marriage itself. We should be seeing North Carolina’s business community coming out against Amendment for the simple reason that none of the state’s employees should be discriminated against and treated differently because of their orientation or relationship status.