BofA technology chief says gay-marriage ban may drive off talent
Bank of America Corp.'s technology chief denounced a proposed North Carolina measure to define marriage as the union between a man and a woman, saying the initiative would make it harder for companies to attract talent to the state.
The ballot item, called Amendment One, would place a constitutional ban on gay marriage, cementing North Carolina law that already bars the state from granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
"We're in a war with other states across the country who would love to have the jobs that we have today," said Catherine Bessant, global technology and operations executive at the Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender, in a video posted to YouTube this month. "Amendment One has the potential to have a disastrous effect on our ability to attract talent and keep talent in the state of North Carolina."
Nicole Nastacie, a Bank of America spokeswoman, said in an email that the video is legitimate and the company isn't taking a position on Amendment One. "Employees are allowed and encouraged to be involved in their personal capacity in dialogue and debate on important public issues," she said.
Bank of America is the nation's second largest lender by assets behind JPMorgan Chase & Co., and the largest by employees with more than 280,000 at the end of 2011. The firm says it has about 57 million consumer and small-business relationships. It operates in more than 40 countries.
The state's General Assembly placed the initiative to a vote on the statewide ballot on May 8, the day of the state's Republican primary. The video was posted to YouTube by the Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families, which is organizing opposition to the initiative.
'Where's the Beef?'
The amendment doesn't prevent private employers from offering civil-union benefits to an employee's same-sex partner, said Paul Stam, the Republican majority leader of the state's House of Representatives, in a telephone interview.
"We added that language specifically to allay unfounded assertions that this was going to hurt businesses," Stam said. "They can give any kind of benefit they want. Where's the beef?"
North Carolina is one of at least three states putting the gay marriage issue before voters this year. Minnesotans will also weigh amending their constitution to bar the practice in November, while in Maine, they'll decide whether to extend marriage rights to gays.
New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont, along with the District of Columbia, grant marriage licenses to gay couples. It used to be riskier for companies or their executives to publicly support such rights for their employees, said John Bruce, who teaches political science at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.
Safer to Discuss
"For some subset, particularly in the South, this is considered bad press and the wrong thing," Bruce said in a telephone interview. "In the old days, there'd be risk of tarnishing the brand. The fact that the national view has shifted so much and people increasingly accept it as an issue of equality makes it a safer place to go."
John Mack, former Morgan Stanley chairman, and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein are among Wall Street figures who have defended gay marriage. They argued prior to New York's legalization of gay vows last year that it was needed to help the state remain an economic leader.
Bessant joined Bank of America as a corporate banker in 1982 and is a member of the lender's executive-management team, according to the company's website. She is a former president of global corporate banking at the firm.