Worried about Jobs, Not Gay Marriage

For Corporate America, the top election issues are weak hiring, the budget deficit, and outsourcing. Same-sex unions hardly register

Despite all the media attention that same-sex marriage has generated recently, only 3% of top U.S. executives believe it's a key issue in the 2004 Presidential election, according to a recent poll conducted by executive-search firm Christian & Timbers.

President George W. Bush has backed a proposed Constitutional amendment barring gay weddings. Meantime, Democratic front-runner John Kerry has toiled to come up with a stance he hopes won't alienate gays or religious fundamentalists who insist that marriage should involve a man and a woman. He favors civil unions, not gay marriage.


  Polls show that by 2 to 1, Americans say they're opposed to gay marriages. But a majority rejects Bush's call for an amendment to make same-sex nuptials illegal, and a majority of Americans say they support civil unions.

For the 137 chief executives, chief operating officers, and other top execs surveyed, the issue registers only faintly because they don't see any bottom-line impact, says Stephen Mader, Christian & Timbers' president and chief executive. "Businesspeople see no real economic implications" of gay marriage, Mader notes. "Social issues never really become top-of-mind for a businessperson."

Mader observes that even though corporate types tend to be fiscally conservative, they're often quite tolerant and progressive on social issues. After all, top U.S. execs usually travel widely and lead diverse workforces. And to a certain extent, Corporate America is increasingly accepting of same-sex couples. Slightly less than half -- 211 -- of the nation's top 500 companies now offer domestic-partner benefits.


  The simple truth is that a lot of other issues matter more to businesspeople. Topping the list is job creation, with 29% of the respondents identifying it as the most important business issue in this year's campaign. With the economy now falling far short of producing the 300,000 new jobs a month the government initially projected, employment will remain a hot-button topic into November. "People don't know where the jobs are going to be created," Mader says.

The second biggest group of execs -- 23% -- cited the expanding budget deficit as their top concern. It could balloon to more than $2.75 trillion over the next 10 years if the Bush Administration makes its recently enacted tax cuts permanent without finding commensurate cuts and cost savings elsewhere.

In general, Mader says CEOs and other execs are leery about spending more than they take in. "Businesspeople are used to balance sheets," Mader points out. "They all know the benefits and liabilities associated with borrowing money."


  For 21% of respondents, the outsourcing of jobs is the key issue. Mader says that result represents more a worry about how the trend affects employees rather than a concern about the practice itself. "The CEO will do what's best for the business," Mader says. An additional 12% say health-care costs is the key issue, 10% cite the war on terrorism, and 2% list immigration as the main concern.

Overall, the message from Big Business is clear: Generating economic growth is Issue No. 1 for this Presidential election. Fully 73% of respondents say taming the budget deficit and creating jobs are the most important business concerns. And although gay marriage may have some impact on some voters, Corporate America cares little.

By Eric Wahlgren in New York

Edited by Douglas Harbrecht