When I first heard about this, I was really surprised– I thought Microsoft’s change in stance on HB 1515 was very strange. Say what you will about Microsoft as a technology source or even as a corporate power, but from what I’ve heard, they have had a pretty good track record on supporting charitable causes. They have a sizable matching program for their employees’ charitable donations and everyone has heard of Bill Gates’s personal philanthropic efforts. Moreover, in terms of queer rights, Microsoft has a sizeable queer community (GLEAM, Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft. And as Steve Ballmer says in his email to Microsoft employees, they were one of the first companies to provide domestic partner benefits and to include sexual orientation in anti-discrimination policies.
However, the peculiar thing is that Ballmer (and Gates, by extension) says that they are wondering if a corporation should become involved in broader social issues, that if they take an active stance for or against legislation, what kind of message does it send to employees and shareholders who might hold an opposing view?
Well, with the increasing corporatization of America, I would think that its obvious that corporations have an enormous influence on social and political issues and if they want to continue to exert that influence in some areas, shouldn’t they also feel some moral responsibility to, put bluntly, not be a bunch of wusses when it comes to broader social issues? Perhaps the case would be different if Microsoft did not have a history of becoming involved in social and political issues, but to back down when things get a little interesting seems cowardly. By instituting domestic partner benefits and including sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination efforts, Microsoft’s internal policy was already making a broader social statement and while Ballmer says he does not want to promote a law that goes against the personal beliefs of many of its employees is really a lame-ass copout. By supporting HB1515, Microsoft wouldn’t be saying that gay marriage should be legalized or that employees have to embrace homosexuality. What they would be saying is that no matter how you feel about homosexuality personally, a lifestyle choice that is in no way illegal, you should not disciminate against homosexuals in the workplace. You may not like black people, Asian people, white people, Jewish people, Muslim people, red fish, blue fish, but it’s illegal to discriminate against them in the workplace. Obviously, Microsoft agrees with this idea since they have an internal policy against discinination based on sexual orientation and have recognized domestic partners in providing benefits. If they think it’s good enough for Microsoft, why isn’t it good enough for the workplace in general?