In an era of growing public acceptance of same-sex marriage, few Americans say they’d like to live in a state that makes it more difficult for gay and lesbian couples to wed — a sentiment that business leaders have factored into an emerging political activism.
That finding in a Bloomberg National Poll follows an attempt by lawmakers in Arizona to let businesses deny service to gays because of religious beliefs.
Only 18 percent of Americans say they’d like to live in a state that makes it tougher on gays to marry, and just 13 percent call it “unfortunate” that two athletes — a professional basketball player and a college lineman seeking to join the National Football League — announced they are gay. Almost half say neither much matters to them, the poll shows.
Reaction to the Arizona case in interviews with some of those polled underscores the potential for alienating consumers with anti-gay laws. That’s a concern Apple Inc. (AAPL), Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL) and American Airlines Group voiced in urging Governor Jan Brewer last month to kill a bill the legislature passed that opponents said would have let businesses deny service to gays.
In vetoing the measure, Brewer, a Republican leader of a tourist-luring state, cited its “unintended and negative consequences.”
“If there were such a law in the Boise, Idaho, community, I would vote with my dollars — I would buy my coffee in the coffee shop that is open to everyone,” said Susan Karnes, 59, a poll respondent and free-lance writer in Boise.
The Texas transplant, once a self-styled “conservative Republican,” said, “the Tea Party has taken care of that for me.” Now, she said, she tends to “side with the liberals on the social issues and with the Republicans on the fiscal issues” and she is registered to vote as an independent.
The Bloomberg survey, conducted by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, Iowa, found that 55 percent nationally support same-sex marriage. That’s up 3 percentage points from February 2013. The survey of 1,001 adults taken March 7-10 has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
As in other polls, this survey shows overwhelming support for same-sex marriage among younger Americans: 72 percent of those younger than 35 say they support it, while 56 percent of those ages 35-54 say they do, and just 38 percent of those 55 and older accept it.
Among those younger Americans surveyed, Matt Westover, 24, a college graduate who was raised near Salt Lake City and is looking for a job, says: “I believe everyone has the right to be happy, and if two people are in love they have a right to get married — and them getting married is not going to destroy the world.”
The Washington-based Pew Research Center also found majority support for gay marriage in polling last year, and ABC News and the Washington Post on March 5 reported that 81 percent of those surveyed said businesses shouldn’t be allowed to refuse service to gays and lesbians.
It’s that business question which prompted Doug Parker, chief executive officer of Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines, to write in a letter to Arizona’s governor as she weighed a veto: “There is genuine concern throughout the business community that this bill, if signed into law, would jeopardize all that has been accomplished so far.”
Parker said the measure had the potential to reduce the desire of companies to relocate in the state and to repel convention business. “Our economy thrives best when the doors of commerce are open to all,” he wrote.
After years of silence on social issues, hundreds of large corporations signed a brief for the U.S. Supreme Court last year in favor of overturning the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act that restricted benefits for same-sex couples. The court struck down the heart of the law. In Indiana, Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY) and Cummins Inc. (CMI) each donated $100,000 to a campaign opposed to a proposed amendment banning gay unions.
E. Joshua Rosenkranz, a lawyer who represented 100 companies in a Supreme Court brief opposing a California ban on same-sex marriage last year, sees two business concerns.
“The first is the imperative in a highly competitive marketplace to attract and retain the very best employees,” he said. “A business that takes a stand in favor of equality is just much more likely to signal to its employees that it’s an inclusive, tolerant place,” he said.
Second, he said, “A company that has a profile of being welcoming and tolerant is more likely to attract a wider, more diverse population of customers than a company that either portrays itself to be agnostic or a company that portrays itself to be hostile.”
“It goes totally against what we believe in,” the poll respondent said. “I don’t know if it would be detrimental to the business climate, but I would support a boycott of any state that passed that,” she said, and “I would think” Arizona would suffer from that. “I would hope they would.”
While 50 percent of those in the Bloomberg survey said it didn’t matter to them whether a state made it easy or difficult for gay and lesbian couples to marry, 30 percent said they’d prefer a state that made it easy and 18 percent a state that made it difficult.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. The Democratic attorney general of Virginia, Mark Herring, has declined to defend his state’s prohibition on gay marriage, which a federal judge has deemed unconstitutional.
A judge in Texas last month ruled the state’s ban on same-sex weddings unconstitutional, although he left the prohibition in place in expectation of an appeal. Judges in Oklahoma and Utah have issued similar rulings on those states’ laws.
The survey asked about recent announcements by athletes that they are gay. Michael Sam of the University of Missouri’s Tigers, an NFL prospect, did so last month. Last year, Jason Collins, a veteran National Basketball Association player, announced his orientation.
Forty percent of Americans agreed that “this is an advancement because gay athletes shouldn’t have to hide their sexuality,” and 13 percent called it “unfortunate because it mixes controversial politics with sports.” Forty-five percent said they don’t care.
Westover calls the move by gay athletes “a positive thing, because it means other athletes don’t have to worry about coming out.”
“It’s just something that we as a country can move past in the next couple of years,” he said of the larger issue of gay rights. “It’s definitely changing.”