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Achieving Domestic Equity

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court reaffirmed what many of us have long believed—the Constitution is a living, breathing document built on a foundation of equality and the pursuit of happiness.  It did not take a constitutional amendment to establish marriage equality, because those concepts are embedded in our nation’s founding documents.

The struggle for that important achievement was carried out over many years, from the streets, to the court rooms, to the board rooms.

We were pleased to join 379 employers and employer organizations in a friend of the court (amicus curiae) brief to the US Supreme Court to explain how discriminatory restrictions on the right to marry hurt business. According to the Court:

“As more than 100 amici make clear in their filings, many of the central institutions in American life—state and local governments, the military, large and small businesses, labor unions, religious organizations, law enforcement, civic groups, professional organizations, and universities—have devoted substantial attention to the question.  This has led to an enhanced understanding of the issue—an understanding reflected in the arguments now presented for resolution as a matter of constitutional law.”  Obergefell v. Hodges, Slip Op. at 23 (emphasis added). 

Some of the largest publicly traded corporations in the world signed that brief, demonstrating that this issue had already been settled in the mainstream business community.  By 2012, the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies prohibited workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, setting a higher standard than the law required.

That didn’t happen by accident.  Much of it happened, company by company, due to the hard work of investors who believe that discrimination is bad for business.  Companies were persuaded through letters from their shareholders, face to face meetings and the submission of shareholder proposals that were put to a vote at company annual meetings across the country.  Some of these dialogues took years to achieve success.

The Domini Social Equity Fund played a small part in these efforts, convincing several companies to amend their non-discrimination policies to include “sexual orientation,” and voting for shareholder proposals submitted by others.  A small change brought about by your mutual fund can have ripple effects throughout society.

This work helped to lay the groundwork for marriage equality by changing perceptions in the investor and business communities, strengthening the notion that an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity has nothing to do with their ability to perform on the job.  We explained that corporations would benefit by greater employee loyalty and commitment.  They would also gain the ability to recruit from the broadest possible pool of talent.

In the world of finance, the phrase “domestic equity” does not refer to marriage equality, it refers to the stock of American companies.  But the word “equity” has a double-meaning.  After all, a system that is fundamentally unfair is also not good for business in the long run.