Forbes' Jerry Bowyer Baselessly Argues That Marriage Equality Is Bad For Business

Forbes contributor Jerry Bowyer relied on shoddy logic and baseless assertions to attempt to debunk the well-supported claim that marriage equality has a variety of economic benefits.

In his July 4 blog post - touted by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) - Bowyer claimed that the Supreme Court's recent marriage equality decisions would hurt businesses by adding to “paperwork” for same-sex couples: 

One of the most frequently cited arguments is that a pro-same sex marriage ruling would cut down on paperwork. But the problems with this are numerous. First of all, in a situation where some states have same sex marriages and some don't, it seems like a new marriage category adds to the paperwork. So, the argument only applies to a ruling which forces same sex marriage on all the states, which was not one of the real world scenarios which were addressed before the courts.

This hardly represents a damning indictment of marriage equality per se, given that the extension of full equality to LGBT couples across the country would easily redress such concerns. 

But Bowyer goes on:

In addition, the effect of expanding the legal definition of marriage to include same sex-couples, is to immediately expand the number of people to whom expensive health insurance benefits are entitled. These companies are gigantic, with extremely high economies of scale in their human resources department. They are very efficient when it comes to the handling of paperwork and same-sex marriage will save them very little money in extra paperwork at the time of hiring. And it will cost them substantially more to be forced to pay an additional dependent's health care benefits during the whole period in which they are employed by Microsoft.  

In reality, economist M. V. Lee Badgett and public policy expert Gary J. Gates of the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA have found that more than 96 percent of businesses will incur no further health insurance costs as a result of marriage equality.  Badgett and Gates estimate that “only about 190,000 out of 5 million U.S. firms will even have one new spouse covered by its health benefit programs.”

Moreover, as The Washington Post's Suzy Khimm noted in March, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has found that marriage equality is a net positive for the broader economy:

Back in 2004, the Congressional Budget Office calculated that legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states would reduce government spending on Supplemental Security Income (means-tested payments to low-income elderly and disabled), Medicaid and Medicare, while it would increase spending on federal employees' health benefits, which same-sex partners and spouses currently don't receive. The net impact would vary in the short term but it would be positive in the longer term, CBO concludes: “recognizing same-sex marriages would affect outlays by less than $50 million a year in either direction through 2009 and reduce them by about $100 million to $200 million annually from 2010 through 2014.”

Bowyer proceeds to claim that progressive policies on LGBT rights might actually harm businesses' recruiting efforts:

The fact is that homosexuals, just like heterosexuals, tend to go to places where the wages are highest and jobs are most plentiful. Yes, of course, open persecution is a strong disincentive, but open persecution is not what America is debating right now, nor has it been since the Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws in (high growth, by the way) states like Georgia and Texas.


But what if it turns out that people really do decide where to live and work based on sexual identity politics? Then there is no particular reason to assume that this cuts in favor of the homosexual side. Homosexuals, after all, are a small percentage of the population: 2-3% by most serious estimates. On the other hand, when one adds up Mormons, evangelicals, traditional Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews, that's roughly half of the population. Aren't they talented, too?

Where Bowyer goes fundamentally wrong is in assuming that only LGBT people will be attracted to areas that have strong records on LGBT issues. As urban studies scholar Richard Florida has shown, gay-friendly cities rank high on measures of creativity, innovation, and technological prowess. As Florida writes, this isn't particularly surprising:

Talented people seek an environment open to differences. Many highly creative people, regardless of ethnic background or sexual orientation, grew up feeling like outsiders, different in some way from most of their schoolmates. When they are sizing up a new company and community, acceptance of diversity and of gays in particular is a sign that reads “non-standard people welcome here.”

While there's abundant evidence that LGBT rights benefit businesses and the economy, there's no evidence that LGBT protections have prompted mass exoduses of conservative-minded workers. And with Quinnipiac University finding in March that American Catholics support marriage equality by a margin of 54 to 38 percent, Bowyer's assumptions about how particular religious citizens might react to marriage equality look particularly ill-founded.

Forbes' Bowyer might have thrilled the likes of NOM, but his claims do nothing to upend the plethora of evidence that marriage equality is, in fact, good for business.