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Business Versus the Bible

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In 1993 then-Governor Ann Richards thought she had struck a deal to bring Apple Computers to Round Rock. If the Williamson County Commissioners just granted a tax abatement, Apple would build an $80 million customer support center, providing a $300 million boost to the local community support for up to 4,500 permanent new jobs.

To Richards’ chagrin, though, the county commissioners voted down the deal because Apple, at the time, was one of the few American corporations providing health benefits to same-sex partners. In a county where the Christian Coalition had made major inroads into local government, such a corporate policy was an anathema. The deciding vote against Apple was Commissioner David S. Hays. “If I had voted yes,” Hays said, “I would have had to walk into my church with people saying, ‘There is the man who brought homosexuality to Williamson County.”

Now, 22 years later, as the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether prohibitions on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, Texas once again is debating business versus the Bible.

Quoting Scripture, a Christian conservative rally is set for later this month at the Capitol to oppose the state issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. And a proposed state constitutional amendment to protect the religious freedom of businesses has one of the state’s largest business organizations standing in opposition. At the same time, numerous corporations that are either headquartered in Texas or with substantial operations in the state are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage.

The U.S. Supreme Court on April 28 is set to hear arguments on whether state prohibitions on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. Rather than rehash the entire debate, I refer you to Pamela Colloff’s excellent piece in the current issue of Texas Monthly.

With apparent anticipation that the nation’s high court will rule against the prohibitions on same-sex marriage, Houston anti-abortion, anti-gay activist Steve Hotze is organizing a March 23 rally at the Capitol in support of proposed legislation by Representative Cecil Bell Jr. to prohibit state or local government employees from issuing marriage licenses in violation of the Texas constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. “The purpose of this rally is to protect and preserve Biblical marriage,” reads a news release from Hotze’s Conservative Republicans of Texas.

Hotze’s group has invited Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore to speak. Recently, when a federal court overturned Alabama’s prohibition on same-sex marriage, Moore issued an order barring county clerks from issuing licenses or judges from performing marriage ceremonies.

But what has Texas corporations really concerned is the possible adverse publicity from a proposed state constitutional amendment to guarantee the religious freedom of businesses. Senate Joint Resolution 10 by Senator Donna Campbell of New Braunfels and House Joint Resolution 55 by Representative Jason Villalba of Dallas could cause the kind of fiasco that led Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to veto similar legislation in her state last year. 

Campbell is concerned about instances such as Massachusetts requiring Catholic Charities to place foster children with same-sex couples, prompting the group to halt its adoption services altogether. She also is concerned about the Colorado baker who was fined when he citied his religious feelings as the reason he refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple.

“The fact remains that our right to practice our faith does not stop at the doors of our churches but extends into every aspect of our lives, including our businesses,” Campbell said in a statement. “SJR 10 will provide that extra layer of protection so that religious Texans are not discriminated against for simply practicing our faith.”

But that has put Campbell at odds with one of the state’s largest business organizations, the Texas Association of Business, which is an umbrella group for the state’s chambers of commerce as well as major corporations. A $1.7 million direct mail campaign in the 2002 election by the TAB helped Republicans gain a majority in the state House for the first time since Reconstruction.

TAB President Chris Wallace told me that 100 members of the board of directors voted unanimously on February 17 to oppose Campbell’s amendment as bad for business recruitment and retention in Texas. “We feel it would create an environment that is unwelcoming to business in our state,” Wallace said.

Wallace noted that many major American corporations offer the same benefits to same-sex couples as they do to heterosexual couples. Apple is far from alone in the corporate world today. Many corporations either have non-discrimination policies or offer benefits to same-sex couples. “They want their state to look like their policies. We are opposing this because that’s not what we’re about with our employees.”

The City of Plano in December passed a non-discrimination ordinance that many speculated was part of the city’s effort to attract Toyota’s national headquarters to the city. Last week, 379 corporations and business organizations filed a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court urging that bans on same-sex marriage be overturned nationally. Among the corporations signing onto the brief were Dallas-based AT&T. Companies on the brief with a major presence in Texas include Bank of America, Barnes & Noble, Capitol One Financial Corp., CVS Health Corp., Dropbox, Inc., Dow Chemical, DuPont, eBay, Facebook Inc., JPMorgan Chase, Office Depot, Target Corp., and Verizon Communications. The Austin office of Facebook notes it participates in the city’s Pride parade. 

 “Employees with partners of the same sex should be permitted to marry if they so choose, and then should be treated identically to their married heterosexual counterparts. State laws that require otherwise impose a significant burden on us and harm our ability to attract and retain the best employees. Such laws force businesses to uphold discriminatory laws that run counter to important corporate values. In the end, economic growth suffers.”

While the TAB is concerned about corporate relocation to Texas, what really got the business community concerned was the blow-back to Arizona’s Senate Bill 1062 to allow businesses to restrict services to gay people and others base on their religious beliefs. There were calls to boycott conventions and tourism in Arizona. Major League Baseball issued a statement condemning the legislation, as did the National Football League with this year’s Super Bowl pending in Arizona. The NFL has a Super Bowl scheduled for 2017 in Reliant Stadium in Houston. Here is the NFL statement on the Arizona legislation:

“Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard.”

Wallace said the TAB respects religious freedom but doesn’t want to harm the state’s business climate. “Texas needs to be open for business,” he said. Campbell responded to the TAB with disappointment, and in a statement said: “A lot of small business owners are going to be awfully disappointed if business groups start selling individual liberty and traditional family values down the river for an unattainable level of political correctness.”

In the end, however, when it comes to the Bible versus business, business usually wins out. In the case of Apple and Williamson County, Richards negotiated a compromise in which Apple paid taxes and then received a refund. This allowed Hayes to vote for the proposal because Apple was just getting a refund of its own money instead of a Williamson County taxpayer subsidy. Commissioner Hays surrendered his vote in favor of the project. “Until last Thursday I never had to choose between economic development and traditional family values,” he said. “We expressed to a national forum our views on values.” 

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