A powerful new marriage advocate emerges in Minnesota’s business sector

John Taft, chief executive of RBC Wealth Management in Minneapolis, is leading the charge against an anti-gay marriage amendment in Minnesota by pitching "the business case" for speaking up.

For the past several months, Taft has been urging corporate executives in Minnesota to publicly oppose a ballot initiative in the state that would constitutionally ban same-sex couples from marrying, writing into the state constitution that "only a union between one man and one woman will be recognized as a marriage in Minnesota." Minnesota residents will face the amendment this November, when the anti-gay ballot initiative is put before voters. Minnesotans United for Marriage, a coalition of organizations committed to winning marriage, including Freedom to Marry, has been working tirelessly to defeat the ballot measure. 

Taft - whose great-grandfather was former U.S. President William Howard Taft - has a personal stake in the campaign. His daughter and his step-daughter are both lesbians, and he doesn't want to see his state's constitution discrimiante against his loved ones. 

In order to court the favor of business executives in his state, Taft is busy explaining the economic and community-level damages that marriage discrimination has on Minnesota residents. Anti-gay legislation and policy interferes with business' ability to treat their employees fairly, specifically in terms of health insurance benefits, retirement protections, and visa rights. 

Pioner Press in St. Paul, Minn. reported on Taft's advocacy against the anti-gay amendment:

Taft is working quietly behind the scenes, hoping to amass the safety in numbers that will allow Minnesota business leaders to say - in public - what they're now saying only in private: [They they do not support the marriage amendment.]

"They don't want to be the first ones in the pool. Well, guess what? I jumped in the pool first. The water's just fine," Taft said in an interview at his downtown Minneapolis office.

"My goal is to have several hundred high-profile business executives declare themselves in opposition to the marriage amendment sometime between now and the election," Taft added. "And I am very confident we are going to be able to do that."

Last week, General Mills and St. Jude Medical spoke out against the amendment, reiterating that they want to stand up in support of their employees. 

This kind of advocacy from business leaders and corporate executives sends a powerful symbolic message: That limiting the freedom to marry and writing discrimination into a state constitution has a distinctly harmful effect on communities. Not only does restricting the freedom to marry have negative economic consequences and force businesses to indirectly discriminate against their employees, but it also creates an environment where gay and lesbian workers are disrespected or brushed off because of who they love. 

That's not the kind of work environment that John Taft wants to promote, and that's not the kind of community environment that Minnesotans should approve of. Freedom to Marry applauds Taft for speaking out and persuading businesses to express their commitment to voting "no" on the anti-gay amendment when it goes to a vote in November.