Microsoft and Others Back Gay Marriage

Microsoft, Starbucks, and Nike have endorsed Washington State Senate Bill 6239 and House Bill 2516. The bills would require couples currently in domestic partnerships in the state of Washington to either dissolve the partnership or get married. These firms have also joined the Washington United for Marriage Business Coalition, an organization of more than 70 businesses devoted to securing marriage rights for homosexual couples.

Along with Vulcan (which was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), Nike, RealNetworks, Group Health Cooperative, and Concur, Microsoft wrote a joint letter to Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, stating, “We write you today to show the support of our respective companies for SB 6239 and HB 2516 recognizing marriage equality for same-sex couples.”

Though the letter to the Governor was brief, Microsoft described its reasons for supporting the bills in its official blog. Not only does Microsoft believe allowing same sex marriage decreases codified discrimination, it aspires to attract talent and promote diversity. According to Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith, “Washington’s employers are at a disadvantage if we cannot offer a similar, inclusive environment to our talented employees, our top recruits and their families. Employers in the technology sector face an unprecedented national and global competition for top talent.”

Microsoft’s concern is not unfounded. With increasing foreign competition from India and China as well as competition from other states, it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract and keep high quality employees. As Microsoft’s headquarters are in Redmond, Washington, the current legislation could potentially remove a significant obstacle to drawing in talented employees.

Starbucks also published a statement expressing support for gay marriage. “This important legislation is aligned with Starbucks business practices and upholds our belief in the equal treatment of partners,” wrote Starbucks executive vice president Kalen Holmes.

In the past, the support of major companies has been crucial to ensuring the passage of gay marriage bills. Prior to gay marriage being legalized in New York, many business leaders such as Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein, hedge fund manager Paul Singer, then- Reuters CEO Tom Glocer, and others released an open letter emphasizing the importance of marriage equality to attracting talented workers:

To remain competitive, New York must continue to contend with other world cities to attract top talent. Increasingly, in an age where talent determines the economic winners, great states and cities must demonstrate a commitment to creating an open, healthy, and equitable environment in which to live and work… As other states, cities and countries across the world extend marriage rights regardless of sexual orientation, it will become increasingly difficult to recruit the best talent if New York cannot offer the same benefits and protections.

If Washington’s situation is at all similar to that of New York State, the bills will likely pass. A recent poll found that 43 percent of respondents supported gay marriage, a 13 percent increase from five years ago. An additional 22 percent supported identical rights for homosexuals but not labeling it marriage.

In general, corporations supporting same-sex marriage is in line with other efforts businesses have made for homosexual equality. More than half of Fortune 500 companies provide benefits such as health insurance to same-sex partners of employees, which allow these businesses to compete for top talent. The endorsement of SB 6239 and HB 2516 by Microsoft and others is therefore the next logical step for companies looking to attract valuable workers.