Who says the news is always bad? The corporate revolt against state-sanctioned homophobia is our feel-good story of the week.
Put your hands together for American Airlines, Apple, Bank of America, Citibank, Coca Cola, Comcast, Delta, Disney, Facebook, Google, Home Depot, Levi Strauss, Marriott, Microsoft, the NBA, Netflix, PayPal, Pfizer, Time Warner, UPS, Yahoo…and dozens more. Heck, even the NFL, of concussion scandal fame, has weighed in as a good corporate citizen.
These disparate firms have one thing in common: They all believe that discriminating against gay people is bad for business. They do business across state lines, and they’re increasingly loath to do business with states that practice statutory bigotry. Most of their customers – in other words, most Americans – oppose homophobia, and the corporations want to be in sync with their customers. It’s the free market, baby.
Nathan Deal, the Republican governor of Georgia, got the message.
Earlier this week, he foiled the state’s right-wing lawmakers by vetoing a noxious bigotry bill. If the corporations hadn’t stepped in to threaten economic punishment, rest assured that Deal would’ve signed. If the corporations hadn’t flexed muscle, Georgia cities and towns would’ve been barred from enacting nondiscrimination laws; and religious organizations that receive taxpayer funding would’ve been free to deny services to gay people, and to fire gay staffers, all in the name of God.
In his veto address, Deal said the bigotry bill “doesn’t reflect the character of our state or the character of its people.” Actually, the bill perfectly reflects the character of the state’s religious conservative lobby, and the character of a Republican legislature in thrall to that lobby. But Deal didn’t want to lose business lucre – even “The Walking Dead” threatened to start filming its show elsewhere – and he knew he could withstand the religious right’s wrath because, as a term-limited pol, he’s not running for re-election.
With Democrats so weak at the state level – they’ve lost scores of legislatures during the Obama era – it’s fortuitous that corporations have taken up the cause of tolerance. Naturally, gay-averse conservatives are furious. The Family Research Council said, “The Devil has gone down to Georgia…in the form of big business.” One analyst, on the conservative American Spectator blog, said that Georgia’s governor “was cowed into submission by ultra-rich leftists,” which is an odd way to describe corporations whose only ideology is to serve the bottom line. In the America of 2016, tolerance enhances the bottom line.
Corporate pressure has also paid off in Arkansas, Arizona, and Indiana. Republican governors caved in all three states; Wal-Mart was pivotal in Arkansas. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence did sign a bigotry bill, but after he got serious heat from (among others) the NCAA, Eli Lilly, Salesforce, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, he prevailed upon the legislature to “fix” the law by watering it down to mush. Pence was once touted as a presidential prospect, but the gay haters in the Republican base nixed him forever after he bowed to the good corporate citizens.
Back when the Republican coalition was strong, business and the religious right were allies of convenience. No longer. We’re seeing that right now, notoriously so, in North Carolina. The state’s robust corporate sector is raging against a new law passed last week by the Republican legislature and signed by the Republican governor, over a 12-hour period during a special session. The law says that cities and towns cannot pass nondiscrimination measures; the law erased one such measure enacted in Charlotte.
The result this week: An open letter to Gov. Pat McCrory, signed by more than 80 CEOs, declaring that “such laws are bad for our employes and bad for business. This is not a direction in which states move when they are seeking to provide successful thriving hubs for business and economic development. (The law) will also diminish the state’s draw as a destination for tourism, new businesses, and economic activity.” And the NBA is rethinking its decision to stage its ’17 All-Star game in North Carolina.
But the state’s economy may have to suffer, because this year McCrory is far more interested in votes. He’s running for re-election, and his top priority is stay correct with the religious conservative base. If North Carolina’s eroding image as an enlightened southern state has to take another hit; if the world’s largest furniture show, slated for this month, suffers hundreds or thousands of cancellations – well, too bad. The gay haters accept this collateral damage.
Nevertheless, the trend line bends toward tolerance. The corporate pressure will only increase over time, as Millenials come to dominate the customer base. As Nathan Deal said in Georgia when he wielded the veto, “I hope that we can all just take a deep breath, recognize that the world is changing around us.” No kidding. There’s no way to hold back the future.
Speaking of discrimination:
Philadelphia’s City Council passed a resolution yesterday, apologizing to Jackie Robinson for the hostility he encountered during his first road trip as a rookie in 1947. A Philadelphia hotel refused to give him a room, and the Phillies’ manager and players taunted him racially.
Way to be timely, Philadelphia.
“Hey Jackie, we want you to know we’re really sorry about – wait, what? He’s been dead for 44 years? D’oh!”