When we hear the phrase “there are two Americas”, we generally think about wealth disparity or economic inequality. In the post-Windsor world there’s a new divide: those who live in states with marriage equality and those who do not. It may seem like a simple matter of public policy that effects only a small segment of the population. It’s actually creating a large chasm, though, that threatens to drain talent from states clinging to old traditions.
There are now thirteen states where same-sex couples can legally marry and subsequently have their marriage recognized by the federal government. The Gayly is not distributed in any of them. That means if you are reading this paper, you are in the lesser of the two Americas, at least in terms of rights that you are afforded. There’s nothing inferior about the people and the aptitudes of our communities, though. That’s an important point that business leaders, opinion makers, and politicians need to remember. With equal rights and basic freedom offered in multiple places now, why should anyone who is gay continue to live somewhere where they aren’t treated equally under the way?
That’s a question a lot of people are starting to ask themselves. It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have, too, because how many people really want to leave their home? All of us have a certain pride in our states. We understand that the Mid-western queer brand of stubborn independence is its own unique phenomena. For a lot of LGBT folks, personal responsibilities and economic realities will keep them exactly where they are. Others, especially those who are young and single, will choose to get educated or start their careers in locales where they won’t have ridiculous burdens placed to their love, though.
There’s a reason our states adopted constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. Right wing politicos correctly predicted that this day could arrive, and they wanted to “safeguard” their states when it did. They’ve actually set us up for failure, though.
In his 2002 book, “Rise of the Creative Class” urban studies theorist Richard Florida laid out a formula for building a booming city that centers around supporting and developing a creative workforce. A big part of the equation is laws that promote inclusion and diversity, along with a thriving gay community, which is often at the epicenter of creative ingenuity. He found that companies choose what cities to bring their operations to based in part on this because they know that their educated, accomplished employees will want to live someplace where everyone is respected. Gay rights have become a values centerpiece among the millennial generation because the issue is really a proxy for a more open, multi-faceted, and diverse world. As this generation rises, states who treat gay people like second-class citizens are starting to look less and less attractive.
Each of us will make our own decision regarding how we operate in this new divided reality. There won’t be an immediate mass-exodus to marriage equality states, but there will be lots of individual choices about where to work and live that will add up and have big effects. A broad, national ruling establishing the right to marry is needed, but we can’t expect the US Supreme Court to save us. We have to liberate ourselves. For those who stay—and I assume that’s most of you—that will mean having some very honest conversations with a lot of people about how this new reality effects you and your family. Midwesterners are great listeners. So let’s talk! It’s a conversation that will ultimate make all of our states stronger.