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Testimony to Senate Judiciary- Marriage Equality-S. 115

My name is Will Patten.  I’m here today as Executive Director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, an association of 550 businesses, large and small, across all 14 Vermont Counties.  I’m here to speak in support of S115.

Last year, the VBSR Board of Directors unanimously endorsed the following resolution from Vermont Freedom to Marry:

"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".

This wasn’t a tough decision for our Board.  Last year VBSR polled its members on a number of public policy issues, from Vermont Yankee to health care, to workforce development, to Freedom to Marry.  98% of our members  supported gay and lesbian marriage.  Our Membership is a very diverse group, from large banks and hospitals to sole proprietors and brand new start up businesses.  We have never, ever seen this level of consensus since we were formed 19 years ago.  98%!

Thank you for this opportunity to present a business point of view on this debate.  I understand that you’ve heard a lot of complicated testimony on constitutional rights and legal theory.  I also understand that you’ve heard some pretty emotional and descriptive testimony.

Business people try to avoid drama and we like to weigh cost versus the benefits of any course of action.   With that approach, I’d like to suggest answers to a couple of questions that were asked yesterday.

The first is “Why are not Civil Unions an adequate compromise?”  Or “Why are Civil Unions not good enough?”

I can’t speak to the legal comparisons of Civil Unions and Marriage or whether constitutional obligations have been met.  But 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 will not be able to build a creative, innovative economy without freedom and equality.

Another question is “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.

Well, 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.

Recently the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law projected the economic impact that S115 would have on Vermont economy.  I’m not sure if you’ve seen this; I have copies for you.  Businesses like to speak in numbers and we bring this to you because it reinforces our support for this legislation.

Since I believe that I’m the last to testify formally on this issue, I’d like to remind you and all of us that S115 is about people.  Real people with real lives.

So let me take my businessman hat off for a minute and tell you about my nephew Alex, who is wonderfully in love with another man whose name is Rosario.

Both Alex and Rosario were raised in large extended families with lots of uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins, and second cousins twice removed and so on.  Deeply religious families, one here in Vermont and the other in Sicily, that gathered for any excuse:  graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, and births, deaths and marriages.  Great parties and solemn occasions.  Alex and Rosario learned how to do good family.

Alex and Rosario both have PhD’s and great jobs.  But of course they needed a family.   And when they adopted beautiful Matilde, they also needed to stand up in public – before their families – and declare their love and commitment to each other and their new daughter.  They needed to get married.  They needed a big raucous family gathering and celebration.

They weren’t thinking about insurance policies or visitation rights or constitutional justice.  That’s what Civil Unions are about.

They were thinking about how much they loved each other and their new daughter.  They were thinking about family and commitment and love.  That’s what marriages are about.

Is there any reason on God’s good green earth why they shouldn’t be able to do that?

Thank you for listening.


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