How Corporate America forced Arizona bill's veto

Published: February 27, 2014
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When an important social issue intersected with business in Arizona, Corporate America decided it was time to take a stand.

Voicing concern for their employees, customers and bottom lines, prominent companies from American Airlines to Verizon used threats of reduced business to help convince Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto legislation that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gays based on the owner’s religious beliefs.

Companies have long spoken out about certain issues they felt threatened their bottom lines, such as taxation and the minimum wage. The strong opposition to the Arizona bill signals an acknowledgment by businesses that it’s not just economic policies that can be harmful to their profits. They need to be more willing than ever to wade into social issues.

Companies also recognize that many of their employees and customers are gay and try to foster an open and inviting corporate environment.

“Business used to restrict itself to economic issues but they’re now seeing the importance of other kinds of issues,” said Darrell M. West, vice president of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

The measure Brewer vetoed Wednesday night would have allowed people to cite their religious beliefs as a defense against claims of discrimination. She faced intense pressure from gay rights supporters, prominent politicians and local businesses. But ultimately, it might have been the national business community that tipped the scales.

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At a glance

More voiced opposition

Other companies, such as Intel, PetSmart, American Express, eBay and GoDaddy joined with local and state chambers of commerce and other business collations, signing letters in opposition to the bill, known as SB 1062. One after another delivered the same clear message: This is discriminatory and bad for the bottom line.

•Yelp: “This bill goes against the rule that every great business subscribes to, which is that the customer is always right.”

•Marriott: “This legislation has the potential to subject our state to travel boycotts.”

•Southwest Airlines: “Already, even just the discussion surrounding (the bill) has had a profound and immediate impact on the Arizona tourism industry and on our company.”

•Starwood Hotels: “We expect a significant number of tourists, event planners and even corporations will react hostilely to passage of (this bill) and will choose to book trips and events other than in Arizona.”

“Business leaders feel emboldened to speak out on a wide range of issues now,” West, of the Brookings Institute, said. “They understand that they have a platform and are using it more and more.”

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