Marriage equality is good business
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Marriage equality is good business

Thailand has an incredible reputation for being LGBTQ-friendly, but its national laws and policies don't quite match the open-minded brand that its government projects. This dissonance -- what the UN called "tolerance but not inclusion" in a 2019 report -- is what the Thai parliament is on the brink of changing in a seismic decision to legalise same-sex marriage that will have a positive far-reaching impact on Thailand's economy for years to come (and hint: it's much more than the millions of dollars to be generated by the weddings themselves).

Why? Because passing the Marriage Equality Act will not only be good for the LGBTQ+ citizens of Thailand, but it will also be great news for the global business community who seek to do business in the country. Thailand can soon learn what every other country in the world has learned after enacting marriage equality -- that economic and talent benefits very quickly follow. This is a monumental opportunity that Thai policymakers should actively consider.

Global multinational companies take LGBTQ discrimination extremely seriously. Discrimination negatively affects companies' ability to recruit and retain top talent, and it can prevent companies from locating their best talent within countries with hostile environments for LGBTQ people. And it's not just LGBTQ people who are impacted. Allies, friends, parents, and family of LGBTQ people also seek out LGBTQ-friendly places to work, live, and support businesses with values that align with theirs. Companies have significant bottom-line-driven incentives to build inclusive organisations, which is why 96% of companies in the Fortune 500 prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin -- dubbed the nation's "top salesman" -- has made his ambitions for Thailand clear, declaring "Thailand is now open and ready for business. There's no better time to invest in Thailand than now."

That eagerness for growth and openness in business must go hand in hand with an openness to LGBTQ rights -- because it will generate what I like to call the "Return on Equality™" -- the economic benefits that businesses and governments can expect when they put LGBTQ people on equal legal footing with everyone else. By legalising same-sex marriage, Thailand will enable companies in high-value industries to expand their operations and create high-paying jobs that promote innovation, foster entrepreneurship, and attract significant foreign investment for the benefit of the Thai people.

Numerous studies have highlighted the precarious economic well-being of LGBTQ people in Thailand over the years, all demonstrating how legal inequality prevents them from being fully integrated into the country's economy, and thus preventing government and businesses in Thailand from reaping the benefits of their productivity. Businesses squander valuable employees' productivity and opportunities when they are expected to cover their identities at work (which 83% of LGBTQ+ employees do). On the other hand, global research shows that over 66% of LGBTQ+ professionals say that being out has had a positive impact on impact on their ability to do business and engage with clients. Moreover, LGBTQ+ inclusion drives measure gains for the stock performance of multinational corporations. In 2016, an analysis from Credit Suisse showed that LGBTQ-friendly businesses outperformed the MSCI All Country World Index, which measures global stock movements, by an average of 3%. If fuller engagement from employees helps spur innovation, bolster productivity, and decrease turnover, why would a country consciously decide to exclude LGBTQ+ talent from its economy?

Without marriage equality, the costs are countless – from insurance redundancies to tax implications to spousal benefits -- companies and governments around the world waste billions by failing to extend the synergies of marriage to LGBTQ+ families.

In a 2018 report assessing Thailand's economy related to LGBTQ people's rights, the World Bank recommended that the first step to addressing a number of these costs "would be to revise the Civil and Commercial Code and family and marriage laws to recognise same-sex relationships and families and to allow same-sex couples to register their marriage." The World Bank has conducted a range of studies with the Williams Institute, a US-based research organization, on just how much LGBTQ exclusion costs economies around the world. Ten years ago, Lee Badgett found that the economic cost of homophobia in India could exceed 1.7% of India's GDP, or $7.7bn. That was ten years ago. Imagine the cost in today's dollars.

Thailand's national tourism authority has also signalled its acceptance in its "Go Thai, Be Free" campaign, where it touts Thailand as "the most LGBTQ-welcoming country in Asia". As LGBTQ+ tourists, who constitute up to 10% of global travellers, are expected to grow the LGBTQ+ tourism market to $610 billion by 2032, Thailand has a real opportunity to solidify its position as the go-to destination for LGBTQ-friendly tourism by becoming Southeast Asia's first country to legalise same-sex marriage. And as lawmakers consider this important opportunity, they should know that the hundreds of CEOs and global corporations are both supportive -- and paying close attention. When Thailand does break forward, it can expect that a Return on Equality will come in more than just tourist dollars, but from gaining the approval of multi-national firms who will see the country as a place where they can easily recruit, retain, and move global talent. Who wouldn't want that?

Todd Sears is the founder and CEO of Out Leadership, a global LGBTQ+ equality firm with more than 100 multinational corporate members.

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