- (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)
An influential research organization that publishes reports showing the economic benefits of same-sex marriage legalization, which is frequently cited by the media and other entities, has ties to LGBT activist groups.
The Charles R. Williams Institute on sexual orientation and gender identity law and policy is based at the University of California, Los Angeles' School of Law. Established in 2001, the Williams Institute periodically publishes reports arguing for the economic benefits of states legalizing same-sex marriage.
Often using data like the 2010 U.S. census and providing guestimates on costs for weddings and travel, the institute has argued that states will benefit financially from gay marriage legalization.
The Williams Institute's work has had a wide influence in many places regarding the marriage definition debate. For example, when U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker struck down California's Proposition 8, his decision cited the institute over 30 times.
Published Williams Institute reports on gay marriage's economic benefits often make the rounds in both LGBT and mainstream media outlets. The Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors group described the impact the institute held in its first decade of existence as "remarkable."
"Experts at the Williams Institute have authored dozens of public policy studies and law review articles, filed amicus briefs in key court cases, trained over 2,500 judges in the area of sexual orientation law, provided expert testimony at legislative hearings, and have been widely cited in the national media," reported the RPA.
'The most important LGBT group you've never heard of'
In recent months judges in Utah and Virginia have ruled their respective states' bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. While appeals are filed against the decisions, the Williams Institute has released reports arguing that both states would benefit from gay marriage legalization.
As Colorado mulls a possible legislative legalization of gay marriage and Oregon hears a legal challenge to their ban, the Williams Institute has argued that such a measure could add revenue to both states.
Even the conservative publication Townhall.com has given attention to one of the Williams Institute's studies and as with the others, does not mention the research organization's ties to gay advocacy groups.
While many news agencies do not mention the institute's ties, in an August 2011 piece the LGBT publication the Advocate dubbed the Williams' organization "the most important LGBT group you've never heard of."
"The more facts and figures churned out of the Williams Institute, the more likely it is that problems will get needed attention," reported the Advocate. "No Williams Institute study has ever been legitimately countered or substantively criticized by antigay groups."
A philanthropy against discrimination
The institute derived from UCLA graduate and businessman Chuck R. Williams, who has donated millions of dollars to its founding and expansion.
According to a Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors publication in 2011, Williams felt called to launch the institute in response to discrimination he saw growing up.
"So it was clear from early on that Chuck's philanthropy would focus primarily on ending discrimination," reported the RPA. "He was more interested in solving societal problems than just addressing today's issues, and he had seen the success of academic research centers in reframing issues and impacting the laws of the land."
In addition to the research on gay marriage legalization and the states, the Williams Institute does research on several other LGBT related topics. Papers include research on immigration, public health, adoption and parenting, homophobic violence and employment discrimination.
"Experts at the Williams Institute have authored dozens of public policy studies and law review articles, filed amicus briefs in key court cases, provided expert testimony at legislative hearings, been widely cited in the national media, and trained thousands of lawyers, judges and members of the public," reads the "Mission" section of their website.
Williams has sought to provide unbiased research, which he believes will help gradually defeat discrimination at all levels.
In an interview with the RPA in 2011, Williams stated that to combat discrimination "you need to have sufficient clarity of logic and research that supports that logic."
Williams, who's a member of the Gill Foundation's OutGiving Advisory Committee, has been recognized by numerous LGBT groups for his work.
The Denver, Colorado-based Gill Foundation describes itself as "committed to securing equal opportunity for all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation and gender expression."
"Over the years, we have invested $148 million in hundreds of high-impact nonprofits that share our commitment to equality. But we're more than grantmakers. We're sometimes leaders and always collaborators," stated the foundation on its website.
To support its research, the Williams Institute has received donations from groups and individuals who are active in LGBT causes.
Major donors to the institute have been compiled on their "Founders Council" list, which includes individuals involved in LGBT litigation, banking and advocates for gay marriage.
Current Founders Council members include Roberta Conroy, senior vice president at The Capital Group Companies Inc. and Jeffrey Haber, a law partner, both of whom are on the board of directors of Equality California; Laurie F. Hasencamp, a retired lawyer who sits on the board of directors of Lambda Legal; Tom Morgan, a senior technology, operations and finance executive who is also a major donor to the Human Rights Campaign; and Michael Nutt, a nonprofit consultant who has served on the National Board of Directors for GLAAD.