We Have Corporations To Thank For the Veto of Arizona’s Anti-Gay SB 1062

feature image credit Robert Haasch

If you were alive and in the United States last week, chances are you heard about Arizona’s Senate Bill 1062. The bill, while supposedly intended to protect an individual’s right to “exercise [their] religion,” was quickly recognized for what it actually was — a reactionary piece of legislation meant to “protect” people who don’t want to make wedding cakes with two brides on them, and so broadly worded it could be used to justify discriminating against pretty much anyone.

It’s similar to bills that have been proposed in thirteen other states. But while most of those bills were quickly killed off (in Kansas, Maine, and South Dakota), sidelined into legislative purgatory (in Idaho, Tennessee, Hawaii, and North Carolina), or are being redrafted to avoid “fiascos” (in Oklahoma and Ohio), SB 1062 actually passed in the Arizona House and Senate. It made it all the way to Governer Jan Brewer’s desk — and although she (thankfully) vetoed it, it lingered long enough to give us a peek into what happens when someone tries to put this kind of bill through in 2014. It turns out some surprising forces are marshalling to our defense — and it’s hard to know how to feel about that.

ARIZONA GOVERNOR JAN BREWER - HAIR DOWN, GLASSES OFF.

ARIZONA GOVERNOR JAN BREWER

In the days before she vetoed the bill, Governer Brewer got a lot of mail with official letterhead. Last Monday she received a message from “the heads of four Arizona business consortiums,” including the CEOs of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The letter cited concerns about the bill’s potential to have a “negative effect on our tourism industry” and to “harm job creation efforts and the ability to attract and retain talent,” and “respectfully request[ed]” that she veto it. A separate letter from American Airlines CEO W. Douglas Parker urged the same thing, predicting that passing the bill would “reduce the desire of businesses to locate in Arizona,” and saying that many of his 10,000 or so Arizona-based employees were “tremendously concerned.” JP Morgan & Chase made a public statement supporting a veto, as did Intel and American Express; the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee announced that they had “heard loud and clear from various stakeholders that adoption of this legislation… would deal a significant blow to the state’s economic growth potential”; and eighty-four companies, including PetSmart and AT&T, signed another letter urging a veto and calling the bill “frivolous, unnecessary, and fiscally perilous.”

This is the latest, loudest incarnation of a pretty new but very real trend — discrimination against gay people has become bad for business. “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” in recent gay rights battles across the country, says Politico, pointing to Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates’s donations towards marriage equality in Washington State, and the “host of major corporations” that submitted an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn DOMA. There are other examples: in 2011, companies like DuPont, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Comcast spoke out against a bill that would have allowed the state of Tennessee to overrule anti-discrimination laws passed by its own cities. Disney just decided to cut funding for the Boy Scouts. In light of all this, Politico concludes that “there’s currently no more powerful constituency for gay rights than the Fortune 500 list.”

HELP I'M DIZZY

HELP I’M DIZZY

The takeaway from this development is complicated. On the one hand, this particular outcome was great — I’m certainly glad that S.B. 1062 didn’t pass, and I’m thankful that so many powerful people took the opportunity to speak out firmly against discriminatory legislation. It’s encouraging, as a societal barometer, that this was a PR fiasco for the state. It’s great that companies don’t care who you love as long as you work hard and buy their stuff. And it’s heartening that a social movement can wield this kind of economic influence.

On the other hand, it’s frightening (always!) to be reminded that economic players wield this kind of political influence — just because they happen to be using that muscle for good this one time doesn’t make  that fact any less scary. And it’s non-intersectional, bad-spirited, and false to characterize “the Fortune 500 list” as “the most powerful constituency for gay rights” when they’re so markedly bad at supporting other oppressed (and overlapping) communities, or other queer issues that don’t happen to immediately affect their bottom line.

For proof of all of this, just go a few years back in time. In 2010, Arizona passed SB 1070 — the country’s most stringent immigration bill. SB 1070, a controversial, terrible law that allows law enforcement officials to detain people upon suspicion that they might have entered the country illegally, invites racial profiling and breaks a few amendments. Obama publicly decried it, hundreds of thousands of people nationwide demonstrated against it, and the Supreme Court eventually struck down three of the law’s four provisions for being unconstitutional. The city councils of Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, and San Francisco pledged to boycott Arizona-based businesses and government agencies. But you know who was notably silent at the time? JP Morgan & Chase, American Airlines, Intel, American Express, PetSmart, and AT&T. They didn’t write any letters until 2011, when it became clear that the bill’s passage had negatively affected the economy — then there was, suddenly, “a strong, unified feeling within the mainstream business community that the state had hit its theoretical limit in the area of immigration reform,” as Arizona Chamber of Commerce CEO Glenn Hamer explained.

PHOENICIANS RALLY AGAINST SB 1070

PHOENICIANS RALLY AGAINST SB 1070

If that strong, unified feeling (which I think was probably more of a strong, unified number-crunch) hadn’t cast a shadow over SB 1062 — and everyone from Hamer to Senator John McCain has stated unequivocally that it did — Governor Brewer might have made a very different decision last week. Looked at in this light, the SB 1062 victory becomes bittersweet. It took economic proof that discrimination against brown and undocumented people was bad for the state of Arizona in order for corporations to become convinced that further discrimination would also be bad. They couldn’t get there on their own. And all of the attendent fears they expressed — that Arizona would lose tourism and “talent” and reputation points — are specific fears about losing benefits that certain gay people can provide, specifically economically privileged gay people, likely to be cisgender and white. Other oppressed groups don’t have the same clout with corporations literally because they are economically marginalized and systematically discriminated against. And that means corporations won’t bother to speak out to stop that kind of discrimination. This is the terrible flipside of the circular relationship between politics and economics that got SB 1062 vetoed.

If you need another example, there are equally notable current silences from corporate entities on social issues. In a few weeks the Supreme Court will start to hear arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. The owners of Hobby Lobby Stores are arguing that, due to their religious beliefs, they shouldn’t be required to provide emergency contraceptives as part of employee health insurance. This is a different level of the same religious-based license-to-discriminate legislation as SB 1062. As a group of fifty LGBT, health-related, and women’s groups put it in an official Statement of Opposition, “all of these attacks are cut from the same dangerous cloth…  if corporations get a license to discriminate under the guise of religious liberty, LGBT people could be turned away at hotels and restaurants, women could be denied access to birth control, people with HIV or AIDS could be denied health care, single mothers could be denied bank loans, and children could be prevented from getting immunizations.” Lambda Legal filed a similar amicus brief.

Guess who remains statementless, letterless, and briefless? The whole business community. As Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker points out, “when, as with expressing opposition to S.B. 1062, it costs business nothing, companies are now happy to display their support for gay rights.” But when, as with Hobby Lobby, they could potentially avoid having to pay for something, they throw the gays under the bus — along with other even more PR-friendly groups, such as, you know, “children.”  They’ll never put their money where their mouths are. It’s important to remember that — especially as we benefit more and more from their support.

Avatar of Cara

Cara is a writing reading bicycling fiend and a lab mouse to the world. Sometimes she's also Hat Benatar. She lives in Jamaica Plain with five cool roommates and an ice cream machine, and is generally thinking about gender, words, sustainable biodiversity, and/or electric guitars. You can follow her on twitter @cjgiaimo if you want.

Cara has written 112 articles for us.

17 Comments

  1. Thumb up 6

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    “On the other hand, it’s frightening (always!) to be reminded that economic players wield this kind of political influence — just because they happen to be using that muscle for good this one time doesn’t make that fact any less scary.”
    VERY VERY TRUE, and a great point to make. Also, why are there so many ‘red M’ companies?

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    It makes me feel so weird to consider huge corporations to be on “our side.” Thank you for reminding us that they’re doing it because it’s easy and free. It’s cool that we are gaining acceptance among normal humans with common sense. But obv the real political battles are going to be to get rights and protections for ppl who have little economic power, who are the targets of violence, and who are not on Glee (is that still a show I don’t even know).

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    The motivation is all wrong for social justice. The motivation is there to ensure continued patronage of business by anyone and everyone (god help it if there is a market unreached by a product brand), but the same businesses are indifferent and apathetic when the issue involves *paying* dues to and for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered, people of colour, small unpowerful groups of human beings. I hate that the power of businesses is so legitimate and can seduce a governor’s ear and judgement when it is a domain that a business might lose under a poorly considered potential discriminatory law, but there is nothing like the same level of noise, complaint, justice seeking action when it comes to defending human rights of humans in one conservative state. I find it terrifying that this is how it is.

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      I would think that both process and outcome are important. You can have a great government that’s not democratic but has great outcomes for *some* people. I think its important to be fair and equal, and thanking some business groups for vetoing the proposed law is neither here nor there, the business groups vetoed it for fair trading in Arizona, not LBGT rights. That is the difference.

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        Perhaps this might have a better light for you: Corporations are starting to notice that enough people absolutely will not stand for blatant discrimination against gay people, that they will attach their brand name to a request to stop discriminatory policies.

        And just because consumers have created a strong economic interest in preventing discrimination, that doesn’t mean that companies can’t also have good motives. In this case, they’re acting as a reflection of the economic will of a HUGE number of people who will not support discrimination.

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          As you acknowledged, it is hard to discern the businesses motives of refusing to support the veto in terms of the driving motivation. I agree, some businesses are ethical and and would choose to support anyone’s human rights, however, in a state where there are a lot of conservative people with money, such as Arizona, the ratio of determining the businesses genuine support to veto the discriminatory law because it discriminates against LGBT, vs. the motivation that those same companies annual revenue may decrease due to the LGBT market being denigrated by those same companies, well, that is anyone’s guess.
          I am cynical about the businesses motivation for vetoing the S.B. 1062 (and that is damning, contemptible, and absurd), but it is equally absurd to expect that the businesses are supporting LGBT for altruistic reasons, also.
          I hope I am wrong, and I hope you are right. The truth is probably in between.

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    I don’t know. Yes, of course both the motives and the actions are important however, it’s a ridiculous fallacy to think you know exactly what someone else is thinking. Sure, it’s a good bet that corporations and their heads probably kept economics in mind, and calculated whether supporting a veto would destroy their company (which used to be a viable worry when supporting gay people), but can we ever really know that the economic things were not simply bonuses and reinforces for good moral stances?

    I feel like it’s so easy to assume that corporations, and therefore the people who control them have no moral truth, like their souls are made of money and greed. Yes. Corporations do horrible, horrible shit sometimes, but I don’t think that’s a good reason to lump them and all their policies into this evil capitalist monster that can’t also have good intentions or do good things.

    I can’t decide if it is reasonable or horrible for the government to recognize the economic realities of a discriminatory policy. On the one hand facts and not emotions or moral appeals are best for persuading someone who solidly disagrees with you. Also, money is very important for living and operating buses and hospitals. On the other, of course it’s wrong that our systems could be corrupted by the money surrounding them. But I don’t know if there’s some middle ground in which the very powerful reality that we live off of money can be acknowledged without turning into a corrupting of the governmental system.

    But regardless: The business community also cannot read minds, so a clear graph-able economic downside to discrimination is a strong sign of wide-spread disapproval of discrimination. This kind of business reaction is enabled when it’s clear that the will of the people is set against discrimination.

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    Thank you for this insightful comment Cara on an often-overlooked aspect of gay, inc. politics (although as a subway aficionado, I have to admit the appearance of the transit symbols– many of them state-owned, I believe– felt a bit weird lol).

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