Allow Civil Unions, Become a High-Tech Capital

When Gov. Pat Quinn was lobbying for the civil unions bill that passed the state House of Representatives on Tuesday, he promised that allowing gays to form legal partnerships would be “good for our economy.”

Quinn has a point. States that allow gays to marry are more prosperous and better educated than states that ban gay marriage in their constitutions. So far, five states -- Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Iowa -- allow gays to marry. So does the District of Columbia. Those places have an average median household income of $58,439. That’s 12 percent above the national average.

But is that a cause of support for gay marriage, or a result? Obviously, the wealthier states have higher levels of education, and college graduates are more likely to back gay marriage. After Florida passed a gay marriage ban, a study found that “each additional 1 percent of a county’s population with bachelor’s degrees correlated with a 1 percent decrease in support for the amendment.”

The link between gay acceptance, education and wealth is actually self-reinforcing. Demographer Richard Florida, author of Rise of the Creative Class, discovered that cities with large gay populations are more likely to attract creative, high-tech entrepreneurs, because they’re seen as places that welcome outsiders with new ideas.

 And if you think about technology-based people, or the kinds of people who go to a place like Carnegie Mellon or MIT and study electrical and computer engineering, computer science - they tend to sometimes describe themselves as ‘geeks.’ And geeks tend to be the kind of people who were not necessarily the all-American, homecoming queen, or turkey king in their high school. They tend to be people who were always unique and different…It's not that gays and diversity equal high technology. That's not the point. But if your culture is not such that it can accept difference, and uniqueness and oddity and eccentricity, you will not get high tech industry.

It’s no accident that the personal computer was invented in the San Francisco Bay Area, the gay capital of America. And it’s no coincidence that Gov. Quinn -- who loves high-tech industry so much he turned the word “Groupon” into his debate mantra -- is supporting gay rights. Like love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other.

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