Microsoft Accused of Bowing to Religious Groups on Anti-Discrimination Bill Support

April 22, 2005 ( - Microsoft has refused to endorse a Washington state bill that would have made it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation - a move that critics say means the giant software company bowed to pressure from religious conservatives.

>Despite having supported the equality bill for the past two years, the company decided to be “neutral” on the bill, which failed by one vote in the State Senate on Thursday, the New York Times reported. The move was made after company executives met repeatedly with a prominent local evangelical church leader, Ken Hutcherson.

The bill – which had passed in the State House – attempted to extend protections against discrimination in employment, housing and other fields to gay men and lesbians. It was supported by other large companies such as Nike, Boeing, Coors and Hewlett-Packard.

Although Microsoft claims that the move to not endorse the bill was not due to the meetings, many groups say that it was a direct result of pressure from the group, which Hutcherson claims was ready to call for a national boycott of Microsoft products. The company claims that the move was a result of examining its legislative priorities and deciding that because it offers extensive benefits to gay employees, it would focus on other legislative issues. The company also pointed out that  King County – where Microsoft is based – already has anti-discrimination laws which are broader than what the state bill proposed.

Sources Disagree

Other disagree with this explanation. For one, Hutcherson claims responsibility for the change in policy. After the meeting, he claims, “they backed off,” the pastor was quoted as saying. “I told them I was going to give them something to be afraid of Christians about.”

State Representative Ed Murray also said the meeting had an effect. An openly gay Democrat and a sponsor of the bill, Murray said that in a conversation in March with Bradford Smith, Microsoft’s senior vice president and general counsel, Smith made it clear to him that the company was under intense pressure from the church. Smith supposedly told Murray that he was also concerned about the reaction to company support of the bill among its Christian employees.

Another source is a Microsoft employee, who said he attended a meeting with Smith and about 30 employees, most of them gay, and said that Smith discussed his meetings with Hutcherson and gave the impression that Microsoft was changing its policy on the bill as a direct result of those meetings.

Many people feel betrayed by Microsoft’s latest position. “I think people should feel betrayed,” said Tina Podlodowski, a former Microsoft senior manager and former Seattle city councilwoman who now runs an advocacy group for AIDS patients, to the Times. “To me, Microsoft has been one of the big supporters of gay and lesbian civil rights issues, and they did it when it wasn’t an issue of political expediency, when it was the right thing to do.”