A Blog by Jonathan Low


Mar 2, 2014

Why Has Big Business Become Such an Ardent Defender of Gay Rights?

It's one thing for business to take a principled stand in favor of motherhood. Or safety. Or lots of other non-controversial, feel-good cliches.

It is, increasingly, even becoming relatively common for business to stand up against discrimination as a kind of generalist approach to life.

But to actually lead the fight against a bill in the Arizona legislature that would permit discrimination against gays? Why would business bother? What's in it for them?

No, this is probably not about ethics, morals, philosophical constructs or freedom to choose whatever. It is about two of the three essentials you have to have if you hope to generate a profit and keep your enterprise's doors open tomorrow: customers and employees. The third member of that trinity (troika doesnt seem like such an appropriate word these days...) are investors and they are usually open to anything that increases profits.

But that war for talent and the desperate effort to gain and retain customers is causing business to rethink this whole personal lifestyle thing. And they have, collectively, come to the conclusion that discrimination is bad for business.

It was not always thus. There was a time when the entrenched interests defended the status quo because it protected them. And it did so because they paid for it to do exactly that. But then all this talk about disruption and change and empowerment gave some otherwise under-resourced but highly motivated people the notion that they actually held the reins of power. And at first business tolerated them in a bemused way - even slipped them a few bucks here and there - because they provided a useful reminder to politicians about who really ran things. But then those people in their colonial garb waving their 'Dont Tread on Me' flags began to forget their place. And they nominated candidates for high public office who should probably not have been allowed out of the house unattended or certainly not near a microphone or computer without adult supervision. Which was embarrassing. And destabilizing. And unprofitable.

So businesses in the US are reasserting themselves. Because ultimately businesses need customers and employees to service them. And in a highly competitive global market, they need every customer they can find and every employee who is competent, let alone talented. Regardless. JL

Alexander Burns and MJ Lee report in Politico:

A reflection of how the need to attract talented employees and project a tolerant image to consumers has overridden virtually any other political imperative businesses face in a state like Arizona.
As Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer prepared to make a career-defining decision — whether to veto a bill that would free business owners to discriminate on the basis of their religious preferences — a letter arrived at her office early this week with a stern warning from some of the biggest names in the local business community.
Signed by the heads of four Arizona business consortiums, with board members including officers of Bank of America, Intel and the Arizona Cardinals football franchise, the letter urged Brewer to strike down the measure known as S.B. 1062. The letter raised the prospect that the legislation could stain Arizona’s national reputation and touch off a wave of unpredictable litigation thanks to the bill’s broad, vague wording.
“We are troubled by any legislation that could be interpreted to permit discrimination against a particular group of people in the marketplace,” the missive read. “We all have a fervent desire for Arizona to be a welcoming, attractive destination for the top talent that will be the cornerstone of our continued economic growth.”
It was a sharp admonition from some of the groups — including the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry — that represent the tent poles of the state’s economy. And over the next 48 hours, the private-sector pressure on Brewer just kept growing.
The Arizona legislation was an especially acute uproar over gay rights and religious liberty, but the larger dynamic at play there — pitting powerful business interests against ardent social conservatives — has played out over and over as the fight over same-sex marriage has spread across the country. In blue states like New York, big companies have played a pivotal role in pushing same-sex marriage measures into law. In battlegrounds like Virginia and now Arizona, corporate America has slowed or halted hard-right social policy from taking effect.
What Arizona proved, as much as any other in recent American politics, is that there’s currently no more powerful constituency for gay rights than the Fortune 500 list.

The corporate community’s engagement in the fight over S.B. 1062 was overpowering: American Express wrote to Brewer on Tuesday asking her to veto the law, according to a spokesman for the credit card company, which has a large presence in the state. JPMorgan, with its 11,000-odd employees in Arizona, said on Wednesday that the legislation “does not reflect the values of our country or the State of Arizona and should be vetoed.” The national bank Wells Fargo also opposed it, along with Apple, Marriott and other big corporations with significant Arizona-based investments.
The Arizona Super Bowl host committee, concerned about losing the 2015 championship that’s expected to generate a half-billion dollars in economic activity, joined in Wednesday with a public call for Brewer to veto the bill.
A few hours later, S.B. 1062 was dead; in her veto message, the governor decried the bill’s hazy language and declared it “could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine” if it became law.
Business leaders in Arizona and Washington called the campaign to kill 1062 a moment of triumph for the corporate world, and a reflection of how the need to attract talented employees and project a tolerant image to consumers has overridden virtually any other political imperative businesses face in a state like Arizona.

“I’m not a military person, but it was a DEFCON 1 situation,” said Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “It would have been catastrophic, economically, if that bill had been signed.”
Hamer said that his group encouraged member companies to denounce the legislation and urged Brewer to use her veto to make a statement about Arizona. The governor was disinclined to sign the legislation from the start, said Brewer adviser Chuck Coughlin, but the overwhelming business outcry most likely accelerated “the speed with which the decision was made.”
Arizona Sen. John McCain, who publicly and repeatedly urged Brewer to stop the legislation from becoming law, likened the eruption in his home state to the divisive upheaval there in 2010 over a restrictive immigration law that Brewer signed. This time, he said, the state stepped back from the brink.
“We were talking about losing the Super Bowl. Can you imagine the economic impact?” McCain said in an interview. “We saw that movie before with S.B. 1070. It took us a long time to recover from that.”

Outside Arizona, deep-pocketed business interests have repeatedly weighed in to support same-sex unions in state battles over the last few years. In Washington state’s 2012 same-sex marriage referendum, tech titans like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates cut checks to support gay marriage. In New York, conservative financier Paul Singer helped boost Republican legislators who voted for same-sex marriage and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein put his name on a letter endorsing legalized same-sex marriage.
In Virginia’s off-cycle elections last year, Democrats touted reports that the defense contractor Northrop Grumman considered leaving Virginia over hard-right opposition to employment protections for gay citizens. In Delaware, Democratic Gov. Jack Markell announced a successful campaign to pass a marriage equality law with the full backing of the DuPont Corp., the state’s most storied business institution.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/02/businesses-arizona-sb1062-104058.html#ixzz2uobZ0TNg


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