Bank of America Exec Speaks Against Amendment One

A gay senior leader at the nation’s second-largest bank stands against the constitutional amendment.

BY Julie Bolcer

May 04 2012 5:50 PM ET

MARK STEPHANZ X400 TWITTER | ADVOCATE.COMThe individual corporate voices from North Carolina contrast with the higher-profile stands taken by companies such as Starbucks and Microsoft, which threw the full weight of their brands behind lobbying for the marriage equality bill in Washington State this year. When Bessant released her video in March, Bank of America issued a statement that said it took no position on Amendment One, although employees are “allowed and encouraged to be involved in their personal capacity” on that and other public issues. 

“That’s potentially as close as I think you’ll see some of these companies feeling comfortable,” said Todd Sears, founder of Out on the Street. “Do I think that’s enough? I don’t actually think that is. But in some ways, I think that’s actually as impactful. By not shutting them down, it’s sort of a tacit way of saying, ‘We agree with our employees.’” 

Sears, a former investment banker and North Carolina native, said that many leading companies are wrestling with the question of how involved to become against measures like Amendment One. Corporate leadership in domestic-partner benefits over the past decade puts their policies at odds with less advanced federal, state and local laws, even as the companies weigh political involvement against multiple bottom lines. 

“I think absolutely and I think it’s really an interesting evolution if you look at it,” he said. “Ten, 12, 15 years ago, when domestic-partnership benefits were just coming to fruition and no one had them, there was no way a corporate entity was going to be butting heads against a state marriage amendment.”

Out on the Street participants expressed a range of views on the question. Stephanz moderated a morning session with hedge fund CEO Paul Singer and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. He mentioned Amendment One and asked what role they thought Wall Street should take in federal and state policy. 

“I think it’s best done as people stand up for equality of opportunity within their own firms,” said Singer. A self-described proponent of “libertarianism and personal liberty,” he helped raise “gobs of money” for the Republican lawmakers instrumental to passing the marriage equality bill in New York last year. His gay son and son-in-law married in Massachusetts in 2009. 

“I’m not sure that it’s going to be easy for large corporations that are operating in a number of states to create policies that advance the ball across states,” he said. “I think it’s much easier and much more effective to pick your spots.”

Blankfein agreed, saying that the involvement of Wall Street firms could backfire in a nation with fervent, competing traditions of personal and religious liberty. He said that allowing the campaigns to play out without corporate involvement could be preferable for equality.

“Some of these things will evolve anyway, and if it’s going in the right way, to turn it into a political confrontation, you might be arming instead of disarming people, and it might actually be counterproductive,” he said. 

Blankfein assumed a very high-profile role in the marriage equality campaign in New York, where polls showed that 58% of voters supported the effort. He and other business leaders lobbied the state Senate, and this year, he became the first national corporate spokesman on marriage equality for the Human Rights Campaign.

“I never saw another side to this issue and I could never imagine a debate on this issue,” he said. “It is not heavy lifting. It is not anything I regard as a burden at all. I feel quite the other way.”

Reaction has been “generally positive,” he told the audience. He said one client wanted to end a relationship with Goldman Sachs over the stand, but he declined to identify them.

“I won’t say the name, but if you heard the name, it wouldn’t surprise you,” he said.

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