Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Red States and Blue States After DOMA

cross-posted from Dagblog

I'm delighted about the Supreme Court's decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor. It's a triumph for human dignity, and also a triumph for federalism. The federal government should not be in the business of restricting the rights that individual states extend to citizens. If thirteen states see fit to recognize same-sex marriage, Washington should not interfere.

One result, however, is that the divide between the red states and the blue states will be wider tomorrow. Millions of Americans will only be able to be married in some states and not others, and  may only have their existing marriages recognized in certain states. If you drive from Boston to Chicago you'll be married as you drive through Massachusetts and New York, just dating as you go through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, and only in a civil union when you reach Illinois. That's silly, but it has real personal consequences, and it will have real economic consequences for different states. The end of DOMA opens a whole new front of inter-state business competition, and it's the red states that are most likely to sing the blues.

The divide between the universal-marriage states and limited-marriage states is likely to have very serious effects on business's ability to attract and retain certain kinds of workers. Would you take a job if it meant that your marriage would not be legally recognized any more? And how would you turn down a job that meant having your marriage recognized, for the first time, in the place where you lived? But on the other hand, would you accept a transfer to the Detroit office if it meant giving up being married? We're not just talking about fringe benefits here.

This eventually means that some businesses are going to have good reasons to work in the states where all their workers can get married if they want; it's a lot easier. It's going to get harder to attract businesses from pro-marriage states to limited-marriage states. And it will be hardest of all in businesses that rely heavily on educated and generally mobile knowledge workers: exactly the workers that are most important in a post-industrial economy.

Smart employers are going to start thinking about prize workers they can poach from competitors in the wrong states. Smart politicians are going to start talking to businesses they want to lure across state lines. And people beginning start-ups are going to find them a little bit easier to start up in Seattle and Boston than they will be in Austin and Durham. That's just economic reality.

We'll see how long it takes for business-oriented politicians in some of those limited-marriage states to see the light on marriage equality. Longer than I'd like, of course. But probably not that long.

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