Wednesday, January 21, 2004
by Wayne Besen
It is a dark and shameful day for all Virginians. A draconian new anti-gay law took effect this morning that threatens the Commonwealth's reputation and puts the state on the brink of economic suicide.
The new law, the so-called Marriage Affirmation Act, not only bans civil unions, but strips gay people of their basic right to enter into private contracts, such as wills and medical directives with their life partners. According to the text of the law:
"A civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage is prohibited. Any such civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement entered into by persons of the same sex in another state or jurisdiction shall be void in all respects in Virginia and any contractual rights created thereby shall be void and unenforceable."
Right wing legislators implausibly deny that this barbaric law will nullify private contracts. But it doesn't take Alan Dershowitz to figure out that this does, indeed, threaten basic legal arrangements. Read the text, it's as plain as day.
In a practical sense, what does it all mean?
It means that if a lesbian wants to leave her estate to her partner of four decades, her dying wishes may now be contested in Virginia. A gay man who has faithfully been with his life partner for 20 years may be banned from his partner's hospital bedside, even if they have gone through the expense and inconvenience of drawing up legal paperwork to prevent such a travesty of justice.
I have trouble believing that fair-minded people in Virginia would want their representatives to vote for such a mean-spirited law that would disenfranchise thousands of families.
Jonathan Rauch, author of Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America, told the Washington Post, "On July 1, Virginia takes a big step backward, into the shadow of Jim Crow." According to Rauch, "To abridge the right of contract for same-sex partners is to deny not just gay coupledom, in the law's eyes, but gay personhood."
Such blatant and cruel alienation of the gay and lesbian community comes with a considerable financial cost that will hurt Virginia's economy. The total buying power of the gay and lesbian community is estimated at $485 billion, according to Witeck-Combs Communications Inc., a Washington public relations firm, and MarketResearch.com of Rockville, MD.
Much of this money will not flow into Virginia, and a new Seattle-based activist group, www.VirginiaIsForHaters.org is spearheading a boycott of the state. In 1992, a similar boycott of Colorado cost the state an estimated $40 million in tourism revenue.
Admittedly, organizing a boycott of Virginia will be difficult. There are no major cities with large gay populations, such as Denver. In the one city with a respectable gay population, Norfolk, many of the gays can't speak out because they are in the military and would lose their careers. Furthermore, there are no swank resorts such as Aspen where Hollywood stars can gain media coverage for the cause by announcing that they are vacationing elsewhere.
However, even a relatively unsuccessful boycott could still be calamitous to the economy because Virginia will be viewed as a closed minded state that is hostile to creative people. In The Rise of the Creative Class, author Richard Florida found that tolerance is a key indicator of emerging economies, and cities with strong gay communities were more likely to attract companies and succeed in the new economy.
In other words, if you want to attract high tech companies like Yahoo, you can't have a state run by Yahoos.
If you think back to high school, many of the guys who now run high tech companies were called nerd, geek and sometimes fag simply because were different. Intolerant bullies on the football team often beat them up.
High tech companies have long led corporate America in instituting pro-gay policies. I believe this is not only because it helps them recruit good workers, but because many high tech corporate executives empathize with gay people who were also picked on in high school by self righteous jocks.
The passage of the "Marriage Affirmation Act" has turned Virginia into one big high school locker room where those who do not conform to a narrow view of humanity will be legislatively wedgied and towel snapped by the General Assembly. Open-minded heterosexuals will not want to do business or raise their children in a place viewed as an ignorant backwater and the Bible Belt will eventually strangle the state's economy.
Virginians should not let the intolerant politics of a few extremists make the Commonwealth into a pariah state. Citizens of wisdom and conscience should demand that the Marriage Affirmation Act be repealed before too much damage is done. While the specious law does nothing to affirm marriage, it could marry Virginia to an intolerant reputation and affirm a false stereotype of the Commonwealth as Neanderthal and hostile to creative people who drive economic innovation.