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Testimony to House Judiciary- Marriage Equality-S. 115

Testimony before House Judiciary in support of S115 – March 27, 2009

Good morning.  For the record, my name is Will Patten.  I am Executive Director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.  We are a statewide association of businesses who believe that we can only achieve sustained growth and prosperity by investing in our people and communities and our natural resources with the same rigor as we invest in our financial resources.  
We are 19 years old.  We are 550 of the most successful and innovative businesses and organizations in the state.  And we are here to urge you to support S115.  98% of respondents to a recent poll of our members told us that they supported the right of all Vermonters to marry.
Last October, our Board of Directors unanimously endorsed the following Freedom to Marry resolution:
"The people of Vermont have long aspired to live together under fair laws that recognize our equality and common humanity.  As business leaders, we support the freedom to marry in Vermont.  We understand that strong businesses thrive in strong communities.  We know that our ability to recruit the most talented employees depends on our ability to attract them to a  state with fair and inclusive laws.  And we understand that Vermont’s national leadership in civil rights is an important part of who we are as a state.  Because marriage is a basic human right     and an individual choice, we support full civil marriage for same-sex couples.
On St Patrick’s Day, I testified before your Senate counterparts in support of S115.  I spoke about what seemed to be the biggest concerns about this legislation and I want to briefly reiterate that testimony here and move on to talk about a much larger issue that confronts Vermont businesses today.
A major question  just a couple of weeks ago was why Civil Unions weren’t legally and adequately providing civil rights to our gay citizens.  I heard the same questions asked over the past 50 years about racial equality; the same frustrated complaint, “What are those people asking for now?  Don’t they have enough?”

Here’s what I said in Senate Judiciary:   “The implication of that question is clearly suggesting that for expediency, to keep the peace, we treat one segment of our people differently than another.  In the workplace, that is a corrosive and explosive formula for dysfunction and poor  performance. Quite to the contrary, the best employers have found that a respectful and diverse workplace is the most productive workplace.
 We cannot build a creative, vibrant economy if we do not have freedom and equality.  Freedom  and equality are the DNA of this wonderful American experiment.    
The second question I addressed in the Senate was “Why are we dealing with Gay and Lesbian Marriage when our economy is imploding?”  One would think that business people would be frantic to avoid any distraction from our economic challenges. And our testimony was this:  “It’s become very apparent that the best way to grow Vermont’s economy is to stop trying to be something we’re not.  We are blessed with many assets and one of them is our courage to be pioneers, to stand up for what we know is right.  That is part of  who we are and it has served us well over the centuries.  
 If you have not seen the Williams Institute economic impact study of Freedom to Marry legislation on Vermont, I have copies for all of you.  This is clearly an economic development opportunity – which is probably why 98% of our members support it.
Governor Douglas’ preemptive announcement that he will veto S115 has changed the discussion around this bill.  We are concerned that it will significantly damage the productivity of this legislative session and I want to speak about that briefly.   
Many years ago, VBSR adopted the position that healthy people, healthy communities, and a healthy environment are the foundations of a healthy economy.  And over the years our members  have built  fantastic companies in the state by investing in people and communities and the environment. They are the marquis names of the new green economy in Vermont:  NRG, Chroma Technology, Green Mt Coffee, 7th Generation, Westminster Cracker, Nathaniel Group, New…., High Mowing Seeds and on and on and on.  These businesses are not threatening to leave the state.  They love it here.  Why?  Because Vermont is, has always been,  a state that has invested in people and community and the environment.  Our business philosophy synchs up beautifully with Vermont’s values and track record.  And it’s working.  We’re growing businesses and creating jobs.
Now an economic crisis of frightening proportion threatens our economy and it forces us to make big decisions about our future.  Business people are watching the Legislature closely because the decisions you make will have a huge impact on how we come out of this crisis.
The Governors announcement  has,  one more time, put gamesmanship ahead of statesmanship and politics ahead of leadership.  You and your colleagues in the House will cast votes in the coming weeks, on S115 and many other pieces of legislation, that are critical to our future.  Will Vermont take the bold actions that will move us forward toward a new economy?   Or will dysfunction and rancor prevail.
This Freedom to Marry bill says to all Vermonters and the world  that Vermont is still riding point in this country.  That we are still a courageous people, pioneers of equal rights and defenders of freedom.  Passage of this bill will say to the members of VBSR that Vermont truly is, still, a business-friendly state.  
Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today.


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