I can't say I expected a NY Times column to take on this position today:
And yet supporting marriage on economic grounds dehumanizes same-sex couples by conflating civil rights with economic perks. Americans should be offended when the value of gays and lesbians is reduced to their buying power as consumers or their human and creative capital as workers.
Why can't same-sex couples have access to the same rights and protections as their straight neighbors simply because they are citizens? How would we respond if the right to interracial marriage were based on the prospects that these relationships made good business sense or added to the state budget? While economic arguments were certainly advanced during the struggle for African-American civil rights -- in the late 1950s, Atlanta's business-oriented mayor, William B. Hartsfield, promoted his city as being "too busy to hate" -- those rationales are not what we think about when we remember that struggle's highest ideals.
Worse yet, this narrative neglects the most economically vulnerable gay and lesbian couples and plays into the inaccurate stereotype of same-sex couples (particularly male couples) as being mostly well-educated and affluent.
I agree with the thrust of the column, although there are parts that grate on me (I'm just plain not convinced marriage is a "natural expression of human intimacy" when its tenets have to be enforced by civil and religious law). While it can be very interesting to discuss whether basic rights and protections and seeing various family structures all as legitimate benefits people's pocketbooks, it fundamentally shouldn't matter, especially considering how easily these arguments could be turned around.
Usually the argument about how LGBT rights are good for a state's finances center around marriage (as outlined in the Times), employment discrimination protections (that forcing businesses to entertain the idea of only looking at merit will make them function more efficiently), and it sometimes is made more generally, that a state should do X or Y because, if it doesn't, it'll seem backwards and smart people will leave and businesses won't want to move in.
It's a Randian argument, and, like most of Rand's arguments, it makes little sense when applied to the real world (the one that isn't completely dependent on trains). Arguing that greed is a good motivation for human and civil rights protections only works in the limited situations where helping others makes brass-tacks economic sense for the rich and powerful. If those situations were the norm, human beings would have this equality and justice thing figured out already.
The question then, for me, becomes: What happens if LGBT rights aren't profitable? What if the benefits of marriage were found to cost more than the amount of money expected to be saved or generated for marriage tourism? Would it then be justified to argue that equality will just have to wait for the economic forecast to change?
What if a business (like a day care) thinks it'll lose clients if it hired openly LGBT people? If sued, should they be allowed to argue in court that they'd love to hire qualified queer people, they're totally not homophobic, but, let's be honest, parents just don't want their kids to be exposed that?
And what if a state actually wanted to attract homophobic workers and businesses instead of the gay-friendly ones?
Studies on the economic benefits of LGBT rights are interesting, and arguments using them can be cute. But when we're talking about social policy, autonomy, fairness, and respect should be the guiding principles.