Will States Without Marriage Equality Face A Gay Brain Drain?

Consider this. You live in a state where your relationship is not legally recognized. A nearby state offers marriage equality. If you had the option, would you move to the state where you can get all the benefits of marriage?

For same-sex couples with career flexibility, the answer may well be yes. Faced with the choice of having all the protections that come from a legally recognized relationship, as well as the social acceptance, and having no official recognition of their relationship, couples may well pick up stakes and go, creating a gay brain drain in states without marriage equality.

Bloomberg News cites as an example Hans Bernhard and Mitch Null, a couple in North Carolina raising their one-year-old daughter, Eva. The pair are considering moving to Maryland, where they not only can be married but where Bernhard can legally adopt Eva, an option not available to him in North Carolina. Berhard is a veterinarian, and Null an IT business operations officer, exactly the kind of professionals that states throw tax dollars at corporations to bring to the state.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee explicitly cited the prospect of losing an economic edge in promoting the marriage equality law there last spring. Chafee said that marriage equality is a kind of social barometer for the type of young professionals — straight or gay — the state wants to attract.

But the flip side of luring workers to your state because of your policy is losing workers for the same reason. “States that recognize the rights of gay and lesbian households, they provide a signal to other people that those are the kind of places that they want to be in,” Richard Florida, author of the book The Rise of the Creative Class, told Bloomberg. “For many highly skilled, highly educated people, this is a nontrivial factor in decision making.”

And it will be gay professionals who will be most motivated to vote with their feet. Over time, as more states adopt marriage equality, geography may matter less, but by then people will be settled in their new homes and not inclined to return to the place that took so long to welcome them.

Of course, moving is an expensive proposition. Lots of working lesbians and gay men don’t have the luxury of careers that are easily transported. Others have family obligations that will keep them tied to where they live now. In the end, it will be the professional class that will most likely decided to call the moving van.

For better or worse, though, it’s the professional class that attracts the most attention among the political elite. Will a gay brain drain speed the arrival of marriage equality in the deep South? That’s very unlikely. But in states like Oregon, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, which pride themselves on their attractiveness to white-collar industries, like technology, an economic argument can make a big difference. The fear of losing gay professionals may not be the most uplifting argument for marriage equality, but in the end it may be one of the most effective.

Photo credit: cmorran123

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  • hyhybt

    The effect would likely be much greater for states with a lot of their population near the border of a gay-friendlier state. Offhand, though, I can’t think of any big population centers so situated that aren’t likely to have marriage anyway in the very near future.

  • hyhybt

    …and, of course, I forgot about the Virginia portion of the D.C. area.

  • Geoff B

    If Illinois passes it, Milwaukee and St.Louis might experience brain drain. It would serve them right.

  • adam madam

    the eastern half of Ohio is close enough to Upstate New York to feel the brain drain already–not that the conservative, agricultural power structure of the state gives a damn.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    hmmm, that would divide the red states and the blue states even more. Would this help our cause or hurt it? I wish I had time to ponder, but I must mobilize, dawn is breaking.

  • liquidskyny

    @adam madam:

    Upstate NY is nowwhere near the democratic slant that NYC is…it can be very Republican up there. More importantly, the economy isn’t that great so not sure how people will leave to go to places like Buffalo, Niagara Falls and even big parts of Syracuse which are very economically depressed. Perhaps Rochester which is a great city, but the pickings for Upstate NY are not that big to have a big migration there.

  • GayTampaCowboy

    My partner and I live in FLA and we both have elderly parents that live close by so, unfortunately, we can’t just up and move (even tho our careers would allow that) to a state that has gay marriage.

    And YES, it IS a big deal, especially for middle age gay men like my partner and I who have homes and possessions, investments, pensions, etc. We had to spend over $3,500 in legal documents JUST to HELP ensure we have SOME measure of the rights, privlidges, benefits and protections that come with legal marriage.

    Hopefully the recent SCOTUS ruling will accelerate the overturning of anti-gay marriage laws in FLA and 30+ other states.

  • Meowzer

    My husband and live in Northeastern PA, not far from Philly. Other than New Jersey, all the other states in the Northeast recognize gay marriage. We both have jobs that could travel, or the skills to find other jobs, so we are seriously considering pulling up stakes and moving. We were married in Massachusetts, so that would be our destination of choice. But any other Northeastern state is fair game.

  • ryanthehulk

    It is all ready happening where I live. Fargo, North Dakota is just a trip over the bridge (there are actually six to choose from) to Moorhead, Minnesota. Of course, here the interstate trip is trivial, I do it once a day and sometimes twice, it’s not unusual to live in one state and work in another so moving states is a much more practical option.

  • Charles175

    Religious fundamentalists consider anyone with genuine high intelligence to be a threat to them as well as an enemy of God. So in their minds, its good riddance to these people. Reminds me of the old movie “Inherit the Wind” 1960.

  • Charles175

    Imagine a society that has run all the gays out. Would be a pretty dull and stagnant society for sure.

  • Bob


    Virginia’s public colleges need to get smarter on benefits

    By Editorial Board, Published: August 20

    NOT LONG AGO, a tenured professor at the University of Virginia’s College of Arts and Sciences moved to a university in New York because her same-sex partner, diagnosed with cancer, couldn’t get covered by her health insurance in Virginia. A physician at U-Va.’s medical school decamped for an Ivy League school because state law doesn’t recognize her relationship with her partner or their children, so she couldn’t get them coverage.

    How many more talented minds have to leave before Virginia takes concrete action to protect publicly employed academics and thus the quality of their universities?

    That’s the question raised by Jeff Trammell, who documented these and other difficulties encountered by gay faculty before he stepped down last month as a board member at Virginia’s College of William and Mary, his alma mater; he was rector, or leader of the board, for the past two years. Before he left, Mr. Trammell, who is gay, urged that Virginia allow public universities to offer domestic partner benefits to academics in same-sex partnerships and marriages.

    In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling earlier this summer that the federal government must treat same-sex marriages the same as heterosexual ones, gay and lesbian academics are weighing a new set of incentives to leave public universities and colleges in the commonwealth.

    “We already have lost valued gay and lesbian faculty to our competitors who do not discriminate,” Mr. Trammell told The Post’s Nick Anderson in an interview. “With changes in federal benefits soon available to legally married gay couples, we will lose more.”

    A number of Virginia’s public university presidents pushed for the state to address this very problem in 2009. They have been ignored by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and the outspoken anti-gayrights attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli II (R). Mr. Trammell is right to bring up the issue again.

    U-Va., an academic powerhouse, is one of eight so-called “public Ivies.” It tied for second place in this year’s U.S. News & World Report rankings of the nation’s public universities. Unless the university fixes this situation quickly, its standing and prestige may suffer.

    As Mr. Trammell wrote in a June 11 letter to the president of Virginia Tech, there is troubling evidence that the state may face an accelerating brain drain of gay academics. And when they leave, in many cases they take their grant funding with them. For example, he detailed how a tenured professor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s pharmacology and toxicology department moved to a private nonprofit research institution in North Carolina that offered full benefits to her partner of 20 years. When she left, she took along her grant of more than $1 million — a loss for Virginia and a win for North Carolina.

    Even in states that, like Virginia, don’t recognize same-sex marriage, some public universities have expanded health-care benefits to include same-sex couples. The University of Missouri, for instance, recently adopted a more inclusive plan. There’s no reason that Virginia shouldn’t be able to do the same — especially at Thomas Jefferson’s university.

  • twoguysbrooklyn

    My husband and I, NYC residents, thankfully resisted the idea of buying a retirement condo in Florida when they were so cheap. Now we definitely will not be following the “trial of tears” south like our parents did when they retired. There will be no redneck riviera for us; no way. We’ll be going to funky and progressive Ulster County in the beautiful Hudson Valley, and maybe winter in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico.

    Not bad, eh?

  • Polaro

    I do not live or work in a location that does not offer work place protection. I have not for the last decade. Gay marriage was not an issue. If it became one then I would further limit where I lived to a state that had gay marriage. Anti-LGBT locations have been paying the price for talent long before gay marriage, but being gay marriage certainly won’t help them either.

  • Charles175

    I say this, let the Exodus from these backward states move forward. Let them deal with the void left behind. Let their Al Bundy’s (of the TV series married with children) fill those voids. They will have to learn the hard way.

  • hyhybt

    “the eastern half of Ohio is close enough to Upstate New York to feel the brain drain already–not that the conservative, agricultural power structure of the state gives a damn.”

    Oh, but they do care. A reason for mostly-Democrats to leave a swing state? If this turns out to be a significant effect, they’ll rejoice.

  • swoeck

    LOL I think of those sates that will lose out on the hair dressers, and creative artsy people, we are the most creative people and the most fun and open minded in many cases. To prove my point, go to a gay bar and see all the straight people there – it is really friendly to all. Go to a straight bar and it is boring as hell because everyone is clustered in their little groups being all so insecure.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    Would gerrymandering become even more out of control? Would gay rights for red states move even more slowly, due to the mass exodus? Why should anyone have to uproot themselves and live in another state, in order to be treated equally, as any other American citizen? GayTampaCowboy brings up a good point about elderly parents. Bob also made great points about the brain drain and the effect it will have in academic circles. Equality from Coast to Coast!

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