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Rhode Island business leaders enter debate on marriage equality

Rhode Island business leaders enter debate on marriage equality

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The debate over same-sex marriage in Rhode Island is moving from the Statehouse to the boardroom as supporters argue the state is at an economic disadvantage with its five New England neighbors, which already allow same-sex nuptials.

A coalition of 60 business leaders, including former Hasbro CEO Alan Hassenfeld, this week endorsed same-sex marriage legislation pending in the General Assembly, saying it would attract workers and employers that might otherwise head to Connecticut, Massachusetts or elsewhere.

Executives from companies including Deepwater Wind, Betaspring, The Providence Journal and CVS Caremark also signed on to the coalition.

“This is about competitiveness and creating an economic climate that allows Rhode Island to attract the best and brightest talent and employers,” Hassenfeld said in a statement.

Hassenfeld, who was chief executive at the Pawtucket-based toymaker from 1989 to 2003, was out of the country Thursday and could not be reached. “To be competitive, a state must create an equitable, fair and respectful environment for all of its citizens. From a business point of view, passing marriage equality just makes good sense.”

Opponents of same-sex marriage, however, have said that they believe most Rhode Islanders oppose gay marriage and that it would do little to help the state’s economy.

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Chris Plante, director of the state chapter of the National Organization for Marriage, called the economic argument for gay marriage “a complete lie.” He said that any impact on the state’s economy will be negligible and that states prohibiting gay marriage have not seen any exodus of workers or companies to states that allow it.

“I won’t deny that same-sex couples will buy rings and flowers and will spend money here,” Plante said. “But the idea of an economic boon is a fallacy.”

The House passed gay marriage legislation last month, but the Senate has not yet taken up the bill.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, supports the legislation.

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