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Hopkins president: Marriage equality is good for business

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I support marriage equality. Assuring that loving same-sex couples have the same rights my wife and I have to live our lives together is, quite simply, a matter of justice and core civil rights.

But I have another reason for supporting Question 6 — less idealistic, perhaps, but just as real: Marriage equality is good for business.

It certainly would be good for my organization, Johns Hopkins.

Our most important assets, by far, are our people. We compete tooth-and-nail with universities around the world to attract the best scholars, teachers and researchers, and our faculty are the wellspring for all we do. Once they are here, we work very hard to support and nurture them so that they can do their best work — and so that other universities don't swoop in to snap up, say, a potential Nobel laureate.

For the most part, recruitment and retention is our own responsibility. It is my duty as president to ensure we have the best students, world-class labs and libraries, competitive salary and benefits, and the infrastructure that enables our faculty and staff to achieve their personal best.

But when I face recruitment and retention competition from Princeton or Stanford or Michigan, I want any advantage I can get. And I believe strongly that marriage equality in Maryland would provide a significant edge.

Actually, I know from personal experience that it would. In 2005, when I was provost at the University of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin lawmakers voted to deny extending health care benefits for same-sex partners. Later, voters passed a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage. At Penn, we, along with other leading universities with more humane personnel policies, pounced, and were successful in recruiting some outstanding faculty away from the University of Wisconsin.

Marriage equality would be a recruiting advantage for institutions like Johns Hopkins — the university and health system, together, are the state's largest private employer — because it would remove the arbitrary and pernicious denial of benefits by institutionalizing it at the state level. It would be an advantage for the state's other colleges and universities. It would be an advantage for the businesses, large and small, that, like those of us in higher education, help to drive Maryland's knowledge economy. All employees and their families would be protected and not have to rely on the beneficence of a single employer or institution.

A UCLA study found that marriage equality in Massachusetts resulted in "an increase of younger, female, and more highly educated and skilled individuals in same-sex couples moving to the state." The study also found that in the three years immediately following legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, members of the young, highly educated, highly skilled group that demographers call "the creative class" were 2.5 times more likely to move there than in the three years prior.

Highly educated, highly skilled: That is the employee I¹m looking for, and that is the citizen that Maryland wants to attract.

Why would marriage equality make such a difference in employee recruitment and retention? Well, for starters, many prospective employees — gay and straight — would prefer to live and work in an environment where all their colleagues are afforded basic civil rights. They would prefer not to be in an environment marked by inequality of respect for citizens' fundamental dignity.

There are also practical issues. Without marriage equality, committed same-sex couples thinking about relocating to Maryland have to weigh negative consequences in terms of their taxes and, often, their health benefits. Maryland law provides more than 400 benefits and obligations to married couples and only about a dozen to domestic partners. The lack of equal protections in Maryland for committed same-sex couples could well persuade them to accept offers elsewhere.

We at Johns Hopkins have for more than a decade offered health benefits to same-sex domestic partners of our employees. Doing so is a plus for recruitment and retention, and I am proud that we have been a leader in this area. But having to run parallel benefit eligibility systems — one for those who are married and one for those who cannot legally be married — is a burden on our human resources staff.

The bottom line is this: I want Johns Hopkins University and health system to remain world leaders in teaching, discovery, patient care and the application of knowledge to solving humanity's problems.

I am doing all I can to bring extraordinary women and men here to Maryland who will help us retain that world eminence, and to keep them here once they have arrived.

That effort is good for Johns Hopkins and good for the world. And getting those folks to Johns Hopkins — and to other employers in the state — is also good for Maryland.

And that's another good reason to vote for Question 6.

Ronald J. Daniels is president of the Johns Hopkins University. His email is president@jhu.edu.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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