Commentary: Wall St. talks marriage equality but its money says something else

The Sacramento BeeFebruary 12, 2012 

Dan Morain: Marriage equality gets Wall St. talk, not money dmorain@sacbee.com Published Wednesday, Feb. 08, 2012

As the 9th Circuit Court was striking down Proposition 8, the chairman of Goldman Sachs, probably the nation's most powerful investment bank, was taking an out-front stand in favor of same-sex marriage.

Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd C. Blankfein wears a starched white shirt and red spotted tie, looks directly into the camera, and tells the world his view of one of the most divisive social issues of this era.

"America's corporations learned long ago that equality is just good business and is the right thing to do," Blankfein says in the 30-second video produced and released by the gay rights advocacy organization, Human Rights Campaign. "Join me and a majority of Americans who support marriage equality."

Blankfein's video follows others by celebrities as varied as Mo'Nique and Sen. Al Franken, and one to be released today featuring the Rev. Al Sharpton. They seek to persuade, but also reflect a change in societal attitudes that is taking hold.

But what Blankfein's heart may tell him and where Goldman Sachs partners are putting their money in the 2012 campaign are two very different matters. Not to be too obvious, but wealth takes precedence over marriage equality on Wall Street.

As the nation emerges from the recession brought about in no small part by Wall Street avarice, Goldman Sachs employees, like most Wall Street denizens, are donating heavily to Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, not President Barack Obama.

Although Blankfein himself has not given to a presidential candidate in this campaign, Goldman partners have contributed $370,000 to Romney's campaign committee so far, compared with $50,000 for Obama.

Overall, investment banks and securities dealers donated $3.8 million to Romney, and $1.7 million to Obama, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Wall Street's support for the Republican front-runner is an about-face from 2008 when Obama vastly outraised his opponent, Sen. John McCain.

It's no surprise why. Romney was one of them during his days leading the private equity firm Bain Capital. Obama, by contrast, campaigns against Wall Street and pushes for more banking regulation, albeit with mixed success.

New York hedge fund operator Paul Singer is among the Wall Street moguls who, like Blankfein, supports same-sex marriage, and, like Blankfein, pushed to legalize it in the state of New York.

Singer probably was not giving same-sex marriage much thought last October when he donated $1 million to Restore Our Future, the political action committee that backs Romney and by law must operate independently of the candidate.

While Romney campaigns on economic issues such as lower taxes and easing regulations on financial institutions, he also collects significant money from opponents of same-sex marriage, and signed a pledge pushed by the National Organization for Marriage, a leading opponent of same-sex marriage.

By signing that pledge, Romney promised that if he is elected, he will support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and woman; appoint Supreme Court justices who will "apply the original meaning of the Constitution"; and will "vigorously defend" the Defense of Marriage Act.

"We are pleased that most of the Republican candidates have signed our pledge, and we take them at their word," John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, told me on Tuesday.

Obama has not come out in support of same-sex marriage, at least not yet. But Obama repealed the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and has directed that his Justice Department cease defending the Defense of Marriage Act, the statute that defines marriage as being between a man and woman under federal law.

The president also says his opinion of same-sex marriage in "evolving."

"We're incredibly hopeful that he will evolve to that level" of an outright endorsement, said Fred Sainz, of the Human Rights Campaign, which has endorsed Obama.

"Of course, I would like nothing more than for the president of my county to reach a decision to support marriage equality, which my own father doesn't."

Same-sex marriage will remain before the electorate in 2012. The issue is in play in at least four swing states. If an appeal of Tuesday's ruling is filed quickly and if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to take the case, the justices could hear arguments in the fall, ensuring that the topic would be in the news as people prepare to vote in November.

Sainz hopes that the Blankfein video will stir conversation – perhaps among politicians, more likely among voters at large. The public often leads politicians on divisive social issues. Once enough hearts get changed, politicians will follow.

Voters no doubt are worrying much more about their economic futures, although polls do show that more are coming to the view that it doesn't matter who marries whom. Blankfein's video notwithstanding, Wall Street already is voting. Money is trumping sentiment and equality.

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