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Wall Street CEO takes rare lead on social issue

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Kai Ryssdal: Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein runs the most powerful bank on Wall Street — if not the planet. You’ve seen him grilled at congressional hearings over deals Goldman did during the financial crisis. He’s been sharply criticized for claiming Goldman does ‘God’s work.’ So he’s kept himself largely out of the headlines lately.

But Blankfein is back in the news today, in an unusual role for a Wall Street CEO. He’s the first national corporate spokesman for a high-profile issue being championed by the Human Rights Campaign. Our New York bureau chief Heidi Moore has the story.

Heidi Moore: You wouldn’t normally connect Goldman Sachs executive Lloyd Blankfein with gay marriage.

Michael M. Thomas: I mean, I was astonished to see Lloyd Blankfein come out for gay marriage because I said to myself, ‘what the hell does he care about gay marriage?’

That was Michael M. Thomas, a former Lehman Brothers partner. He said it’s almost unheard of for Wall Street executives to take a public stance on divisive social issues.

Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign agrees. He was the one who asked Blankfein to do the ad. He wanted to break the ice with the finance industry, which is perceived to be conservative.

Fred Sainz: After you have Lloyd Blankfein’s name behind an effort, we believe and hope that it will be increasingly easier to get the names of other CEOs added to this important list.

Sainz says Blankfein led a push last year to win the business community’s support for gay marriage in Goldman’s home state of New York.

But while Blankfein public stance is rare, few on Wall Street think it will be controversial. In large corporations and banks — the world Goldman does business in — diversity is a common goal. Companies from Microsoft to Macy’s to Home Depot have supported gay marriage.

Thomas, the former Lehman partner, says that supporting gay marriage won’t lose Blankfein any deals.

Thomas: As a frank matter, the kind of people who are opposed to this haven’t got the wherewithal to do business with Goldman Sachs anyway.

In other words, Blankfein doesn’t have to worry about how things might play in Peoria.

In New York, I’m Heidi Moore for Marketplace.

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