Forty percent of gay men and 36 percent of lesbians make more than $100,000 a year, according to media-buying surveys. The median household income of gay couples is more than $80,000 a year, nearly 80 percent more than the median U.S. household income of $46,000.
So in a state where job creation has become a hot-button political issue, is it counterintuitive to erect rights and benefits barriers to gay state workers?
Maryland State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno thinks so. He recently sent a letter to the chief executive of Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman, in which he lambasted the anti-gay policies of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Maryland and Virginia are fiercely competing to land the defense company's new headquarters.
“One of his first acts Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell has taken since assuming his office was removing sexual orientation from executive orders banning discrimination in state employment, reversing nearly a decade of precedent,” Madaleno wrote to Northrop Grumman's chief executive, urging him to chose Maryland over the Old Dominion.
The Maryland senator, who is gay, also says that McDonnell and Cuccinelli have killed a proposal to extend state college health-insurance benefits to gay partners and have prevented public colleges from approving internal rules banning discrimination due to sexual orientation.
In past years, former governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine issued executive orders banning discrimination against gay state workers. McDonnell has refused to do so, saying the General Assembly must pass a law.
Virginia's gay community quickly seized the controversy to push for just such legislation. Equality Virginia, a gay activist group, held a news conference March 1 at the state Capitol to back legislation introduced by state Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, that would ban discrimination against state workers who are gay. “We knew [McDonnell] had issues when he was attorney general,” McEachin said at the conference.
The controversy may be the first time that gay protection laws have become issues in the state's economic development. McEachin says that Virginia was able to snare such major companies as MeadWestvaco and Hilton Hotels in part because Warner and Kaine protected gay state workers.
When it comes to protecting gay rights, corporations seem to be far ahead of government. Northrop Grumman, the state's fifth largest private employer, has won accolades for protecting gay workers. Thirty-two of the state's top 50 employers have nondiscrimination policies and 18 of them also offer same-sex partner benefits.