North Carolina, the only southern state without a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, is home to 15 Fortune 500 companies. While the companies have remained neutral, individual corporate leaders have personally spoken against Amendment One, the proposed constitutional measure that would make marriage between a man and woman the only legally recognized domestic union in the state. Jim Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy, has compared the amendment to the Jim Crow laws, and Cathy Bessant, technology chief at Bank of America, taped a video saying that the amendment would signal a “backward-looking economy.”
Mark Stephanz, vice chairman of the global financial sponsors group at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, has also joined the conversation behind the scenes. The Greensboro native spoke with The Advocate during the Out on the Street conference, the first LGBT leadership summit for Wall Street professionals. More than 200 senior executives attended the event Wednesday at the Bank of America offices in Midtown Manhattan, where discussions focused on the role that Wall Street plays in the larger fight for equality.
“It’s surprising to me how many people think that this amendment is specifically about gay marriage,” he said. “It is a much broader civil rights amendment and touches many more people in terms of all domestic partnerships and children of domestic partnerships. North Carolina, of all the southern states, has been more progressive on all of these issues, and it would be heartbreaking to see the state take a step back.”
Stephanz has spent his entire career with Bank of America. A divorced father of three now with a partner for 18 months, he came out four years ago at age 47 to a “very positive” response in the industry. In the past few months, he has amplified his involvement with the campaign to defeat Amendment One, which voters will decide this Tuesday. His “grassroots-level” activities have included registering to vote in his home state and submitting the ballot, and getting his oldest daughter and her Duke classmates to vote.
He also has contributed financially to Protect Families NC, the coalition that opposes the amendment. Fund-raising reports filed this week show contributions from Stephanz ($5,500) and Bessant ($1,500) leading about 20 individual donors who listed Bank of America as their employer. As of Monday, the coalition had raised some $2.3 million, fueled by almost 10,000 individual donations, more than 75% of them from North Carolinians. By comparison, Vote for Marriage NC, the coalition that wants to pass the amendment, has raised $1.2 million, with fewer than 800 separate donations. (Updated reports released Friday are expected to show $2.7 million raised by Protect Families NC and $1.4 million for Vote For Marriage NC.) Most of the money raised by Vote for Marriage NC comes from groups, such as the National Organization for Marriage and the Roman Catholic Church.
Stephanz said that no organized employee opposition has formed against the amendment, but the issue has received significant internal attention. Bank of America is headquartered in Charlotte, the nation’s second-largest banking center, where it employs 15,000 workers and holds a position as one of the city’s largest and most prominent employers.
“There’s certainly conversation about it,” he said. “I couldn’t point you to a network specific to this, but because there are a lot of North Carolinians who work for this company, either who live in North Carolina and work for the company down there, or are transplanted North Carolinians such as myself, there is a lot of discussion to try to defeat this.”
According to the latest survey from Public Policy Polling, 55% of respondents favor Amendment One and 41% oppose it. However, when respondents were informed that the amendment would ban more than same-sex marriage, including civil unions, only 38% supported it, compared to 46% opposed. Protect NC Families has focused on reaching that segment with TV and online advertisements that educate voters about the “unintended consequences” of the amendment for vulnerable groups such as domestic violence survivors and the children of domestic partners.
Stephanz agreed that approach represented the winning strategy for North Carolina. He visited Greensboro last weekend and the number of yards signs against Amendment One gave him a sense of “optimism.”
“I actually think there is a shot,” he said. “I just hope it’s not false optimism.”