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Marriage equality is good for business, groups say

Published March 6, 2014 7:45 am

Business • In amicus brief, they say bans hurt ability to hire and retain talent.
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For Tony Caputo, the reason for signing onto an amicus brief in support of legalization of same-sex marriage in Utah was simple.

"Because we should," he said. "That is the short answer."

The longer answer, Caputo added, is that "normal people just need to stand up and say, 'shut up, leave this thing alone.'"

That was the message Caputo, owner of three Caputo's Market & Deli stores in Salt Lake City, hopes was sent Tuesday when he joined with 46 employers and business organizations to ask the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold decisions overturning bans on same-sex marriage in Utah and Oklahoma.

The businesses cover a wide range of industries. Among them are big firms like Facebook, Google, Intel, Levi Strauss & Co., Starbucks and the Aspen Skiing Co., which operates four ski resorts, two hotels and 17 restaurants in Colorado, as well as smaller enterprises like Utah's Third Sun Productions Inc., which provides website design and related services to businesses and nonprofits.

"We believe that it is important for Utah to demonstrate equality, and marriage equality has become an important issue all across the country," said Jocelyn Kearl, co-owner of the nearly nine-year-old Salt Lake City company. "We want to do business in a place that supports all of our citizens. ... When everyone in our community is valued, we as a community are better. We want the community to be whole, and this is the way to do it."

One company on the list — Overstock.com — has put financial support behind the effort to legalize same-sex marriage in Utah.

Many of the businesses have employees working in the six states within the 10th Circuit Court's jurisdiction, which includes Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Kansas. All but New Mexico currently prohibit same-sex marriage; Colorado permits domestic partnerships and civil unions.

"We are employers or associations of employers who share a desire to attract and retain a talented workforce," the group said in its brief. But that effort is hindered in states with same-sex marriage bans, they said, describing the ban as "bad for business." Both same-sex and heterosexual individuals may "decide that a state hostile to marriage equality is not a state in which they want to live and work," the group said. Businesses also may have to resort to "workarounds" to alleviate disparities in discriminatory benefit systems, often through added compensation.

"This forced differential treatment — imposed by state law — of similarly situated employees interferes with our business and professional judgment and creates unnecessary confusion, tension, and ultimately, diminished employee morale," the entities said. "We know that operating in the current fractured landscape of conflicting state laws stunts our economic growth and innovation."

As of 2014, 91 percent of the Fortune 500 companies provide nondiscrimination protection for LGBT employees and 67 percent offer benefits to same-sex partners, the brief said.

Caputo said in his opinion, it's a "no brainer."

"The dominoes are falling," he said. "What do people have to do to keep other people out of their personal lives when there is no one being harmed?"

Steven Rosenberg, owner of Liberty Heights Fresh in Salt Lake City, also signed the brief.

"A marriage is really a contract between two people who love each other and if two committed people want to get married, it makes no difference to me what their sexual orientation is," Rosenberg said. "There are so many wonderful people in our community who are same-sex couples and I don't see why we need to deny them the same rights I have as a hetereosexual."

brooke@sltrib.com