Updated March 27 at 8:27pm

Gay marriage lets states lure discriminated couples

Hans Bernhard and Mitch Null say they may leave North Carolina -- taking their daughter, their jobs as a veterinarian and an information technology business operations manager at Cisco Systems Inc. and the tax revenue from their properties.

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Public Policy

Gay marriage lets states lure discriminated couples


WASHINGTON -- Hans Bernhard and Mitch Null say they may leave North Carolina -- taking their daughter, their jobs as a veterinarian and an information technology business operations manager at Cisco Systems Inc. and the tax revenue from their properties.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, the couple is considering moving to Maryland, where they could have a recognized marriage and guaranteed access to the related federal benefits. Bernhard could also become a lawful father to the couple’s 1-year-old daughter, Eva, since North Carolina law prevents residents from adopting a child if they aren’t married to the legal parent.

“As Eva grows, when friends of hers ask her, it would be nice for her to be able to say, ‘My dads are married, and they love each other dearly, and they love me dearly, and we’re just like anybody else,’” said Bernhard, 34.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia, making up 34 percent of gross domestic product, have legalized same-sex marriage, including Minnesota and Rhode Island, where laws took effect Aug. 1. Laws ban the practice in 35 states, with five of those allowing civil unions or domestic partnerships. New Mexico does not expressly sanction or ban same-sex matrimony; New Jersey allows civil unions.

Bernhard and Null’s dilemma illustrates the economic benefits and consequences of a state’s same-sex marriage policy. Following the Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling, gay rights proponents and some economic development officials say states with gay-friendly laws can leverage them for financial gain, while those with prohibitive policies will miss out.

Losing talent

The Supreme Court ruling will force some states to examine whether it’s worth losing out on talent and businesses that are attracted to areas that allow same-sex marriages, said Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management. Acceptance of gay communities signals cultural openness and attracts highly educated people and innovators, Florida wrote in his 2002 book “The Rise of the Creative Class.”

“States that recognize the rights of gay and lesbian households, they provide a signal to other people that those are the kind of places that they want to be in,” Florida said. “For many highly skilled, highly educated people, this is a nontrivial factor in decision making.”

Legal questions

Following the Supreme Court ruling, gay couples legally married in one state can access some benefits regardless of where they live, because recognition is based on the law of the place where the ceremony took place, said Amanda Goad, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in New York. Green-card sponsorships and federal student aid are among the privileges that follow this standard. Some other programs, including Social Security, look to the law of the state where people reside, Goad said, so living in a state that doesn’t recognize the marriages of same-sex couples might bar them from receiving those benefits.

The U.S. is divided between areas that are high-income, high-education and more progressive and those that have lagged in development and remained more traditional in their outlook, Florida said. As states “dig in their heels” and defend their bans on gay marriage following the Supreme Court ruling, “those divides get bigger, not smaller. It simply reinforces a long- standing process of divisions that we’ve seen.”

Relocation options

It is persuading some couples, such as Bernhard and Null, to consider moving. It may be easier to relocate to places that are geographically close and have legalized same-sex marriage, according to Gary Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute at University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, which conducts studies on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.

Couples with access to federal benefits tied to marriage might rely less heavily on state programs, so “there’s some evidence that states could save a little money,” he said.

Some state officials are hoping it might make them a little money as well. The legalization of same-sex marriage in Rhode Island will do more than just honor “critical basic civil rights,” Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, a Democrat, said in an Aug. 7 statement.

“As our reputation for tolerance and equality spreads beyond our borders and throughout Rhode Island, the long-term benefits of marriage equality will start attracting talented and creative minds from all over the world,” he said. “New employers will want to put down roots in a state where they can find the brightest who want to work free of the distraction and worry of inequality.”

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