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Beware the business of same-sex marriage

  • 20 September 2017


Walk along the streets of inner-city Melbourne and you'll find poster after poster declaring that 'this small business supports marriage equality' or that a business is 'voting yes'. For LGBTI people, this show of visible support can be comforting in an increasingly hostile debate about marriage equality.

According to the Australian marriage equality website, there are 739 corporations and 410 small businesses that officially support marriage equality. On the website page, there's a YouTube video including CEOs Alan Joyce and Ann Sherry on the topic of promoting marriage equality in corporate Australia. So why are businesses potentially risking alienating some straight consumers to take a stand with LGBTI rights? Partly because it's a current and popular political cause, but it also happens to be good business.

Catering to LGBTI consumers makes economic sense. The 'pink dollar', a concept that gained steam in the 1990s, describes the purchasing power of LGBTI consumers. LGBTI customers are a loyal consumer base because companies know that LGBTI people and, especially during waves of same-sex marriage political momentum, people who support LGBTI causes are more likely to choose businesses that are openly LGBTI friendly.

Promoting a LGBTI inclusive culture has positive impacts for both businesses and its LGBTI workers. Since six in ten LGBTI people experience discrimination in the workplace, having a clear stance can help hire and retain talented LGBTI employees, who are happier and more productive. According to the report Same Same: The Gay Census, 50 per cent of LGBT employees would feel more committed and loyal to employees that introduced inclusive policies.

However, the lure of the 'pink dollar' also leads to companies 'pink-washing', that is, deliberately portraying a gay-friendly persona for profit and to cover up their lack of actual support for LGBTI people and other human rights issues.

For example, last year Telstra did a hokey pokey with their commitment to supporting same-sex marriage, stating their support, withdrawing it and restating their support again. QANTAS, despite having a CEO with a committed stance in support of LGBTI rights, has been protested recently for deporting asylum seekers, some of whom come to fleeing Australia from persecution on the basis of their sexuality.

And despite their LGBTI friendly rainbow-soled shoes, fashion companies like Nike have a long and infamous track record of human rights abuses in sweat shops.

The line between commercial exploitation and promoting social awareness can be blurred when rainbow capital is involved. I do think that