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Although it's been six years since the financial crisis, it is apparent the big banks are still held in low regard by the general public, especially since there always seems to be a new survey reminding everyone of just how unpopular they are. Every time, it seems, Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) takes home the prize for being the most reviled, though its peers aren't usually very far behind in the opinion polls.
So, when these financial giants show some real humanity, it's a great opportunity to show that they can do the right thing -- sometimes, just for the sake of doing so.
Support for a basic human right
When the U.S. Supreme Court handed down rulings overturning the Defense of Marriage Act -- which prevented same-sex partners from enjoying the same benefits as heterosexual spouses -- banks like Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) , Citigroup (NYSE: C ) , and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) responded with immediate approval. Goldman posted a statement on its website lauding the decision, Citi cheered the outcome, as well, and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon characterized the ruling as "good for our company and clients."
Back in February, nearly 300 companies signed an amicus brief encouraging the high court to strike down DOMA, noting that it causes undue hardship for employers and employees. More than a dozen of those signatories were financial institutions, including Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS ) , and Goldman Sachs. In addition to its press release, Goldman also raised a rainbow flag outside of its headquarters.
Good for business
Being supportive of gay marriage may seem surprisingly progressive for staid Wall Street firms, but this position is not new. According to the Human Rights Foundation's Corporate Equality Index, banking and financial companies have had the second-highest number of firms score 100% for workplace protections for gay, lesbian, and transgendered employees since 2008. The only business category that has consistently bested banks and similar entities are law firms.
Certainly, economics are part of the reason banks are in favor of same-sex marriage enjoying lawful status. Dimon's comment hints at the costs associated with the current double standard, and Goldman's statement notes that marriage equality "lowers burdens and challenges imposed on employers."
Also, there seems to be no downside to supporting the issue. Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX ) has been a staunch supporter of gay marriage for some time, and that position certainly hasn't hurt its sales or growth. In addition, economic punishment is swift for those companies revealed to have encouraged or condoned discriminatory workplace practices -- just ask Paula Deen.
"The right thing to do"
I think there is more to it than just economics – financial industries seem to be ahead of the curve when it comes to gender-related anti-discriminatory practices. The CEI index notes that every year, more companies are reaching that 100% mark, and this year, 13 of the top 20 Fortune 500 companies earned that score.
Within that 13 reside Bank of America, Citigroup, and JPMorgan Chase. The criteria for making this grade are rigorous, and the policies in place didn't materialize overnight, but these three banks were obviously up to the task. As Mr. Dimon opined, "It's the right thing to do."
Companies that are aware of social and civil rights issues just might have an edge with the far-sighted investor, who knows that the best investing approach is to choose great companies and stick with them for the long term. The Motley Fool's free report "3 Stocks That Will Help You Retire Rich" names stocks that could help you build long-term wealth and retire well, along with some winning wealth-building strategies that every investor should be aware of. Click here now to keep reading.