Marriage equality is key to economic recovery

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In a tough economy, cities, regions and entire states must do everything they can to compete. That means providing the best infrastructure, talent pool and economic incentives necessary to attract and retain jobs.

Among the most important factors businesses consider as they seek out sites to locate or expand operations is workforce. That’s why marriage equality is a key plank in “Progressive Recovery,” my 18-point job creation platform.

Marriage equality would lead to a significant immediate windfall in the tourism and hospitality industries, sectors that have especially suffered during the recent recession. A study by UCLA’s Williams Institute projects that recently-enacted marriage equality policies in the District of Columbia would grow the city’s economy by over $52.2 million over the first three years. The local tax base is expected to jump by $5.4 million as a direct result of marriage equality. More than 700 new jobs will be created almost immediately through increased marriage licensing needs, tourism and other work related to the wedding industry. This immediate positive impact results from a population only one-tenth of that of the State of Wisconsin.

Perhaps more important, however, are the long-term implications in terms of human capital. Studies show that the next generation of workers increasingly choose a place to live first, and then find a job there. These same workers are more attracted to places they see as inclusive, places that accept and embrace people of all races, backgrounds and family types. As the economy continues to evolve, and the aging Baby Boom generation retires, attracting and retaining these workers will become increasingly important for the health of Wisconsin’s economy.

Since 2006, discriminatory language directed against marriage equality written into our state’s constitution has directly hampered Wisconsin’s ability to attract and retain the human capital necessary for economic development. In the public sector alone, tens of millions of dollars in research grants and federal funds have been lost due to the departures of university faculty. For example, three recently departed faculty members interviewed by a UW-Madison newspaper cited inequality concerns as a major factor in their decision. The departures resulted in a loss of nearly $10 million in grants and dozens of staff positions.

This trend will only worsen over time, with a ripple effect that will be felt across the public, private and non-profit sectors.

Conversely, a significant number of highly-skilled workers would be attracted to Wisconsin in order to take advantage of benefits such as inheritance and medical protections. In addition to Washington, D.C., Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, have all capitalized on these economic benefits by guaranteeing full equality for all couples.

The private sector already knows this. Half of the Fortune 500 offer full benefits to same-gender couples, as do more than 7,500 major corporations nationwide. They do this because they need to remain competitive. It is far past time for the state government to catch up.

For our state to compete economically in a national and global marketplace, we must take the necessary steps toward guaranteeing full equality for all couples in Wisconsin. The next administration and legislature must work to repeal the discriminatory language in our state constitution and pave the way to equality for all Wisconsin families.

Henry Sanders, Jr. is a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.

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