When I first heard of the “controversy” ovwe Microsoft’s stand on “gay rights,” I immediately assumed the company, one of the first companies to extend benefits to gay employees was cutting or eliminating these benefits. After all, some gay rights’ activists felt Microsoft “betrayed” them. One gay group even asked Microsoft to return an award it had given the company four years ago. Using such strong language, it seemed activists were concerned that Microsoft was no longer treating its employees fairly.
But, this company had not, as I initially feared, changed any of its internal policies regarding gay employees, it had merely withdrawn its support for “a [Washington] state bill that would have barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” Some activists contend that Microsoft withdrew its support for the bill because of pressure from social conservatives. Ken Hutchinson, “pastor of Antioch Bible Church, who has organized several rallies against gay marriage in Washington State and Washington, D.C., said he had threatened in those meetings [with Microsoft executives] to organize a national boycott of Microsoft products.”
Last week, the bill failed by one vote to clear the state Senate.
Microsoft’s own explanation makes more sense to me (a Microsoft shareholder):
They simply examined their legislative priorities and decided that because they already offer extensive benefits to gay employees and that King County, where Microsoft is located, already prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, with a law as stringent as what the state bill proposed, they were focusing on other legislative matters.
It thus seems natural to me that a corporation would want to narrow its legislative focus to “a shorter list of issues,” to put great emphasis on bills which more directly concern the corporation.
I’m amused that activists are so upset with Microsoft. The company has neither rescinded its own non-discrimination policy (protecting gay employees) nor has it stopped offering domestic partnership benefits to gay employees.
And I have to say I’m a little bit baffled by the rationale John Hassell, Hewlett-Packard’s Director of Federal and State Government Affairs, offers for his company’s support of the legislation: “One word: competitiveness.” That rationale seems better suited for defending a corporate policy than advocating legislative action. A corporation that has gay-friendly internal policies will better attract highly-qualified gay and lesbian employees. Corporations that fail to offer such policies might discourage gay employees from working there. It’s in a corporation’s interest to offer such benefits. They get better employees that way. Gay-friendly policies thus make a corporation more competitive.
But, it doesn’t seem to me to be in a corporation’s competitive interest to have the legislature mandate non-discrimination. Hewlett-Packard already has such policies. As does Microsoft.
Had, as I first feared, Microsoft rescinded its gay-friendly corporate policies, it would be one of the first corporations to do so. Indeed, I’m not aware of any large corporation that, once offering domestic partnership benefits or adopting non-discrimination clauses, has rescinded them, even when social conservatives threatened boycotts. To their great credit, Disney (another company in which I own stock) did not give in to the demands of conservative Christians to disassociate itself from Gay Days gatherings at its theme parks.
Private corporations have been far ahead of governments (at all levels) in recognizing the benefits of adopting policies which benefit gay employees. It is a sign of how far we’ve come when gay activists get upset about the lobbying priorities of a private company. Microsoft may no longer support the same bills that these activists support, but the company continues to treat its gay and lesbian employees with dignity.
While an increasing number of companies offer domestic partnership benefits, not all do so. Microsoft was one of the first. And that was only twelve years ago. Let me stress how far we’ve come in those twelve years. Once the pioneer in adopting gay-friendly corporate policies, Microsoft is now one among many. Let’s not take that for granted.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
UPDATE: Make sure to check the comments section to get the views of some who disagree with me on this one. (As well as my responses.) They note that the big issue is the coincidence of the meeting between Hutcherson and Microsoft and the corporation’s decision to change its mind on the issue. Reader NoneOfYourBeeswax thinks Microsoft’s switch “probably made all the difference in [the bill] not passing.” Carl says one state rep “was told that Microsoft was backing away because of the boycott threats.”