N. Va. Business Leader Warns

Commercial Edge For Region Put at Risk, Boss Says

If passed next month, Question 1 on the November 8 Virginia ballot, the so-called “Marriage Amendment,” would be bad for business in Northern Virginia, the managing director of an important regional telecom business stated last week.

Douglas Koelemay of Qorvis Communications said the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and equal rights guarantees to all unmarried couples will put businesses in this area “at an unnecessary competitive disadvantage.”

While the measure would codify a ban on gay marriage in the Virginia Constitution, its total of three paragraphs would also ban recognition of legal status to all “relationships of unmarried individuals that intend to approximate the design, qualities, significance of effects of marriage.”

Noting that 80% of all the new jobs in the Washington, D.C., metro region in the last decade were created in Northern Virginia, he said, “Why set that aside?” to other parts of the region that have no such extreme prohibitions.

He noted that 85% of Fortune 500 businesses have official bans on bias regarding gays and lesbians, and that they’d all the deterred from coming to Virginia, if the amendment passes, for just that reason.

Koelemay cited the case of Capital One a major credit card company with its headquarters in Northern Virginia. The other major center for that corporation is in Canada, which has legalized gay marriage. “How can they move their employees between those two locations under the conditions that passage of the measure would create?” he asked.

Speaking to the Northern Virginia Democratic Business Council in Falls Church last Friday, he said the measure is vague, would invite litigation and is an unfunded mandate. “It raises the risks and the costs of doing business here, and would be a major distraction,” he said.

“Business wants certainty, competitiveness and the freedom to contract,” he added. “This measure would undermine all of these things.”

“The idea that Virginia is an attractive, friendly and fair place would be muddied forever,” he went on. “The litigation risks are real. It would seriously effect business recruitment and retention.”

He said that “technology, talent and tolerance” are what provide the current competitive advantage to businesses in Northern Virginia and that they’re all at risk if the amendment passes.

State Del. Adam Ebbin, who also spoke at the meeting, said that the issues important to business concerning the amendment “are currently flying below the radar” of the business community.

So far, only one business association in the region, the board of directors of the Greater Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, has taken a formal stand on the measure, and it was against its passage by a unanimous vote in August. The Norfolk Retail Alliance is the only other business group in the state to take a stand so far.

The Fairfax Chamber of Commerce declined an opportunity to take a stand, and was also non-responsive to inquiries to sponsor a debate on the subject.

Koelemay cited the research of George Mason University’s Richard Florida, author of two groundbreaking books about the so-called “creative class” that is driving the technological rebirth of the nation. Ranging in scope from creative artists and designers to high-tech and computer savvy engineers and scientists, Florida’s analysis has shown that this new class of Americans, constituting the vast majority of new hires in the Northern Virginia region, believe firmly in tolerance and fair play.

“It will be harder for businesses in this region to attract such quality employees,” if the measure passes next month, he predicted. “These people doesn’t like working in an environment where such values are rejected.” In an ironic illustration, he noted the GMU’s Florida, himself, prefers to live in the more tolerant District of Columbia over anywhere closer to where he works at the university.