Minnesota Businesses Prove Equality Is Possible: It’s Time for the State To Follow

As the old adage goes: Never mix business and family. Even the State of Minnesota recognizes that when business and family mix, disaster ensues. More than 30 Minnesota statutes regulate when and how organizations, businesses, and nonprofits can enter into business deals with family members. Left out of the discussion is what happens when business and same-sex couples mix.

Currently, Minnesota law does not recognize members of same-sex couples as family, and therefore, provides no guidance or protection for them in relation to business dealings. The statutes that affect same-sex couples are woven into multiple areas of the law.

Project 515, an organization dedicated to achieving fairness and equality for Minnesota’s same-sex couples and their families, is encouraging Minnesotans to recognize that it’s time to include same-sex families in the discussion. The 34 state statutes regulating family and business are only a fraction of the 515 statutes that confer benefits, rights, and obligations to married couples, and deny them to same-sex couples and their families.

Consider the following: According to Minnesota Statute Section 308A.635, a spouse of a corporate board member can vote on behalf of the board member. However, the same-sex partner of a corporate board member is not allowed to do so.

State statue also specifies that all related people living in a home together, including spouses and relatives of spouses, together are considered to be “beneficial owners” or “associates” of a corporation for the purpose of Minnesota Statute Chapter 302A if any of them own an interest in the corporation. This type of ownership is not extended to same-sex partners, even if they live together, and share all other family responsibilities.

Although corporate voting rights are left out of the national marriage equality discussion, these business-related statutes have real impact on same-sex couples in Minnesota.

Quorum, Minnesota’s GLBTA Chamber of Commerce, sees this firsthand. It seeks to foster leadership for economic activity, as well as to develop a positive environment for GLBT and allied businesses, organizations, individuals, and consumers.

“Laws that put business owners with same-sex partners at a competitive disadvantage are not only discriminatory, they’re also counterproductive to the state’s economy. Gay- and lesbian-owned businesses create jobs, provide health care, and contribute to Minnesota’s tax base. These disparities require gay and lesbian business owners to have onerous and costly legal work and additional documentation just to have the same basic protections for their businesses and families that everyone has as an entitlement of marriage,” Sam McClure, Quorum Executive Director, states.

Of course, Minnesota is not without successes for same-sex couples and business. More than 300 Minnesota businesses offer domestic partner benefits to attract and keep qualified employees. Those benefits are taxed as income, but many businesses in Minnesota are doing their part to offer the same rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples as they do to heterosexual married couples. Next, we need our government leaders to follow in their footsteps.

Minnesota businesses have proven that an equal work environment is possible. That’s why Project 515 will continue its work during the 2009 legislative session to change laws unfair to same-sex couples. We will be setting our legislative agenda in the coming months.

Project 515 is confidant legislators will recognize that by ensuring Minnesotans are treated equally at work and elsewhere by state law, we’ll become a more economically successful state.

Help Project 515 work for equality by telling us your story, or by donating your time or money. Go to www.project515.org.

Laura Smidzik is Executive Director of Project 515.

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