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How Corporate America forced the veto of Arizona’s anti-gay bill

Thursday, February 27, 2014
Ross D. Franklin,    APWith the Arizona Capitol in the background, gay rights supporters Rachel Butas, right, and Jo Jo Halko kiss after the two learn that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announces she has vetoed SB1062, a bill designed to give added protection from lawsuits to people who assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays, on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, in Phoenix.

Ross D. Franklin, AP
With the Arizona Capitol in the background, gay rights supporters Rachel Butas, right, and Jo Jo Halko kiss after the two learn that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announces she has vetoed SB1062, a bill designed to give added protection from lawsuits to people who assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays, on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, in Phoenix.

NEW YORK — 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 acknowledgement 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.

“They seem to have had a dramatic impact on the decision,” West said. “When you get major companies weighing in about the possible negative impact, that makes a big difference.”

Arizona is a large tourism and convention destination. The state is the spring training home to several Major League Baseball teams and is hosting the Super Bowl next year. When Brewer signed an immigration bill in 2010 that sought to identify and deport illegal immigrants, there was nationwide backlash. Numerous companies and trade groups moved their annual conferences and retreats to other states.

The business community warned against a similar type of boycott this time.

“They played a major role in stopping this bill from becoming law. It’s pretty simple: when the businesses that fuel our economic growth voiced this level of urgency, lawmakers pay attention,” said Jace Woodrum, director of communications for the Equality Federation, a national advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker suggested his airline would cut flights if the state’s business, tourism and convention industry didn’t remain healthy. Although he just moved his company’s headquarters from Arizona to Texas, American — and its US Airways subsidiary — is still the largest airline in Phoenix.

“There is genuine concern throughout the business community that this bill, if signed into law, would jeopardize all that has been accomplished so far,” Parker wrote in a letter to the governor.

Parker noted that “few states suffered as greatly during the recession as Arizona” and that the region is showing great signs of an economic comeback.

Verizon CEO Lowell C. McAdam also flexed some muscle, noting that Verizon has 2,500 Arizona employees, spent $1.4 billion on its in-state network and has more than 2.6 million customers there.

“It is our hope to continue to grow our business in Arizona, but legislation like (this bill) is extremely harmful to pursuing this objective,” McAdam wrote.

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 books 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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    Filed under: Arizona, [ Editor's Picks ]

    19 more reader comments:

    1. “…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.” That’s the bottom line.

      Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10:39pm
    2. now that big business’ are on board equal rights can go throughout the entire country. big business’s run America.

      Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10:41pm
    3. It’s all about the money when it’s boiled down. Thankfully it was vetoed.

      Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10:41pm
    4. I was starting to feel embarrassed about being an American.

      Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10:43pm
    5. sorry the fact that the people of AZ elected officials that brought this up and passed it tells me everything I ever needed to know about AZ..I say the boycott should still be on…

      Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10:47pm
    6. The pure essence of capitalism is freedom, that’s why despite problems in the structure, capitalism is a good ideal.

      Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10:48pm
    7. Behold the beauty of Capitalism.

      Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10:49pm
    8. yeah great. but at the same time the moscow hilton hotel, you know of the so called LGBT friendly hilton group, threw out the organizers of the russian open games at the last minute. never trust money!

      Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10:52pm
    9. Imagine that. It’s almost as though Christian owners weren’t concerned with being “persecuted” by having to sell things to gay people.

      Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10:52pm
    10. fuck corporate america

      Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10:52pm
    11. NFL American Airlines Verizon Communications would really make a difference when gay Arizonans cannot be denied the right to work, to rent an apartment and can marry but until then nothing has changed in Arizona since ChristoNazis can still deny those rights to LGBT Arizonans

      Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10:53pm
    12. As nice as it would have been to believe that the governor vetoed the bill because she’s a good person and cares about others, anyone with any sort of brain knows she did it becuase of the pressure from businesses she might lose if she passed it. Right thing to do. Wrong reason to do it.

      Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10:55pm
    13. I can’t believe I am saying this… well done Americorp!

      Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 11:05pm
    14. Cause there wernt actual residents protesting or anything.

      Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 11:34pm
    15. So…For the $$ resons…the Governor ‘veto’d’ it…

      Posted on Friday, February 28, 2014 at 12:05am
    16. Oh good god, who cares why it was vetoed! Can’t we just be happy it happened?!

      Posted on Friday, February 28, 2014 at 12:52am
    17. That’s how you make them change their minds– by hitting them in their wallet! Not that they have a conscience or anything remotely resembling one….

      Posted on Friday, February 28, 2014 at 12:52am
    18. Now if we can just get big business to realize what’s best for the poor is ultimately best for them.

      Posted on Friday, February 28, 2014 at 2:34am
    19. Those companies are smart. Avoiding future lawsuits, and the nasty reputations business would have gained had the bill been passed. When your business is your lively hood you have to protect it. Don’t mix personal beliefs with business ethics if you want to succeed. I’ve heard many a rednecks say stuff like, we’re losing our rights. Blah, blah, blah. What about the right to refuse business to anyone bullshit. You still reserve that right. Just can’t blatantly discriminate. But let’s pretend for one minute you could. Bet your ass would sing a different tune when filing for bankruptcy. Or you’ll continue to dodge responsibility by blaming those you would not serve. Had this gone through I do believe my life long theory of no one hates singularly would’ve been proved. But I digress. These didn’t turn into multi million dollar corporations because they’ve got drooling idiots on the board.

      Posted on Friday, February 28, 2014 at 3:18am