May 6, 2005 11:15 AM PDT

Microsoft reverses position on gay rights

After weeks of controversy over the issue, Microsoft has decided to return to a position of legislative support for gay and lesbian rights, at both the state and federal level.

In a letter to employees, Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer said on Friday that the company would support antidiscrimination legislation, after backing off support for a Washington state bill on the issue last month.

"After looking at the question from all sides, I've concluded that diversity in the workplace is such an important issue for our business that it should be included in our legislative agenda," Ballmer wrote in the e-mail. "I respect that there will be different viewpoints. But as CEO, I am doing what I believe is right for our company as a whole."

The issue exploded into public consciousness several weeks ago after Seattle newspaper The Stranger reported that Microsoft had backed off support for a state antidiscrimination bill after being contacted by a conservative local pastor, the Rev. Ken Hutcherson of the Antioch Bible Church.

Hutcherson, a leader in conservative religious organizations' opposition to gay marriage and nondiscrimination legislation, said he had threatened Microsoft with a boycott of the company's products if it supported the state bill. Microsoft executives later said their position on the bill was not related to the pastor's pressure, but connected to a broader company policy of avoiding taking divisive positions on "social issues."

The Washington bill subsequently failed by a single vote. Gay and lesbian organizations, which previously had applauded the company's internal policies of support for nondiscrimination, criticized the company widely over the situation. At least one prominent gay employee resigned this week from the company, according to The Stranger.

In his Friday e-mail, Ballmer said the company would join other companies in supporting federal legislation barring employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. If the Washington state bill comes up in next year's legislative session, the company will support that as well, he added.

Ballmer said he was not prepared to pursue similar legislative goals overseas, where other countries have "different political traditions for public advocacy by corporations." Nor would the company take a position on most other public policy issues, aside from those such as free trade, intellectual property rights and Internet safety, which directly affect the company's business.

"It all boils down to trust," Ballmer wrote, explaining his decision to change the company's direction and articulate a clear policy. "Even when people disagree with something that we do, they need to have confidence that we based our action on thoughtful principles, because that is how we run our business."

Gay and lesbian rights groups welcomed the decision.

"Microsoft is a world leader in technology, and we're pleased that the company has also chosen to be a world leader in supporting equality for (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people," said George Cheung, executive director of Equal Rights Washington. "We're also looking forward to working with Microsoft and other business leaders to pass this legislation next year, ensuring that all Washingtonians enjoy the protection that Microsoft provides for its own employees."

Hutcherson could not immediately be reached for comment.

CNET's Ina Fried and Alorie Gilbert contributed to this story.


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Alright !
M$ decides it does have a spine. Way to go :-)

It is curious that the companies long-standing position weakened at the very time a vote was occurring in the state legistlature, making it look like "unsupportive support".

BUT - we have on record - "Ballmer said the company would join other companies in supporting federal legislation barring employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. If the Washington state bill comes up in next year's legislative session, the company will support that as well, he added.".

I hope substantial company support is forthcoming for this CIVIL rights issue. I will hold him to these words.
Posted by (409 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What's Next Microsoft - Embrace Pedophilia maybe Beasiality
And so, like others, have embarked on this slippery slope.
Posted by Big Tsunami (29 comments )
Link Flag
Cockroaches always scurry away when the light is shined on them.
MS is no different.
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why is it that Microsoft MUST support the bill instead of remain nuetral? Companies should be involved in legislation that directly affects their business and NOT social issues. Why support the position of one group of employees/investors and not support the other group when it has no influence on the business of the company? MS internal policies are sufficient to make sure no discrimination occurs in the hiring and promotion of employees. This just goes to show the Gay / Lesbian agenda is permeating every area of society. It isn't a civil rights issue in the least. It is a lifestyle based on choice and nothing more. Blacks didn't have a choice of being black or white. That WAS a civil rights issue. This is pathetic. I will no longer purchase Microsoft products.
Posted by jase1125 (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's absurd. You wouldn't buy a company's products because
it employs homosexuals? That's simply disgusting.
Posted by hatandglasses13 (68 comments )
Link Flag
Yeah, right.
So by your brilliant argument, we should also not have federal
legislation barring employee discrimination based upon religious
beliefs, since those are also by choice. It's rather egocentric to
pretend that the civil rights struggle is the sole domain of black
Americans in this country.
Posted by OscarWeb (76 comments )
Link Flag
Posted by sally3745 (9 comments )
Link Flag
Let's talk about choice...
Do you think that I chose to be looked down on in society, although I continue to pay OUTRAGEOUS taxes as a single female b/c the gov't won't accept my marriage... Do you think that I chose to watch my mother cling to the Bible and cry like I had died when she found out my sexuality... No one chooses to live the way the LGBT community lives.. anyone who says that we do, really needs to take a closer look... I promise, we bleed the same color, love the same way and hope for a brighter future for our children, just like you do. Although you guys just can't seem to get past who we lie down with at night... It's truly sad.
Posted by (4 comments )
Link Flag
Big mistake
First off, I would like to say this,,,Gates and Ballmer are making a BIG mistake. Not because they keep reversing themselves but simply put,,,they're getting invovled in Politics. An arena where NO one will win.
Secondly, to the person that said "religious freaks". You are a Christophobe. If you believe that we will not use computers etc,, think again.
It's amazing to me that you are even calling this a "civil rights".
You wanna be married,,,do it,,,but it ain't marriage,,,ya see a marriage,,,according to many peoples beliefs,,,should be productive in child bearing,,,,how ya gonna do that,,,oh your answer is obvious,,,a milkshake baby. But just remeber,,,ain't nothing better than the real thing. And who is playing mommy or daddy in this set up? If you are 2 males,,,I fail to see any nurturing part that ONLY a mother can give. If you are 2 women I fail to see where the safety and security of Daddy is. It takes 2,,,a mommy and Daddy. It is not Auntie or Uncle visiting either,,,,it is always day to day.
But I regress,,,, MS is making a mistake in entering ANY of this.
Posted by duitf2 (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Business & politics
Businesses, including those like Microsoft, are always heavily
involved in politics, so your argument is seriously flawed. Our
government is not run "by the people". It's run by businesses
with a vested interest in whatever laws are being considered.
Marriage is for procreation? Tell that to the 6.1 million
Americans who are infertile.
A child needs the "special" caring that only a female mother and
male father can provide? I personally know of a good number of
happy, healthy children being raised by either two men or two
women. The Ozzie & Harriet image of the ideal family from the
50's was just a sitcom, and not reality.
Posted by OscarWeb (76 comments )
Link Flag
Politics & Technology = Poison
...or, you might say "Jonestown Koolaid"...;)

I wish MS really did have a spine. If it had, the company would have simply said "We're about technology, and technology by definition is apolitical." Politics and technology don't mix well, but when forcibly mixed the result is truly an unholy brew, imo. Naziism, as I recall, illustrates what can happen when technology and politics become confused.

Personally, I don't give a darn what the officers of MS think privately about the sex practices of adults--and frankly--I feel very, very sorry for people who feel so insecure about their own sexual practices that they constantly need reassurance from third parties (such as Microsoft, for heaven's sake) and governments (state and Federal) about them. It's pathetic, really, and I doubt I've ever seen more severe case of psycho-rationalization than this. This whole topic is a case study in psychology, in fact.

MS, like all tech companies, should always, always be apolitical; human beings shouldn't need 3rd-party justification to make them feel better about their sexual predelections. Who is being sicker about all of this--MS for involving itself, or the people who care as to whether MS is involved in their private sexual lives? I honestly couldn't say.
Posted by Walt Connery (89 comments )
Link Flag
Just wondering...
Are you telling us that because we (the LGBT community) have households with same sex parents, that we are unable to provide for our children the way heterosexuals do? I surely hope not --- Check out statistics... Not only can we, but it has been proven that OUR children grow up with more exceptance and tolerance to those around us... And no... before you comment, we don't just breed milkshake babies that turn out to be just like us... we are capable of raising straight children, if that is God's intentions.
Posted by (4 comments )
Link Flag
This isn't about gay marriage
Andy -

Stay on topic. This matter has absolutely nothing to do with gay marriage. Microsoft isn't taking a stand on that issue here.

The issue here is a bill in the Washington state legislature which, if passed, would have made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in matters of employment, housing, etc. It was not a "gay marriage" bill.

Posted by (4 comments )
Link Flag
Its nice to know homophobic denial is alive and well on the net.
Do us all a favor and take your stupid homophobic, factually backwards self and stuff it back into the closet. Also Id suggest that you go crack a dictionary and LEARN what the definition of a marriage is. Before you start spouting out crap about it being about child baring. BS. That is the right wing freakjobs making excuses. Nowhere in the dictionary definition does breeding come into the definition of marriage. But when did facts ever get in the way of a religious freaks reasoning? Pesky little thing isnt it? Schizophrenic detachment can cure that right up though.
Most gays arent looking for state sanctioned church marriages they are looking for civil unions that recognizes that the are two partners given the same legal and financial benefits as a man and a woman. Ive got several friends who are gay and it burns me up to see the legal wrangling that they have to go through, the time involved, the massive financial costs to get both insurance and financial deals setup in a way that even remotely resembles what a M\W marriage gets. Something that takes maybe a day or two can take half a year and that is only somewhat resembling what a married couple gets. Legally if someone wanted to take it on in court you could blow through it like cellophane paper.

Most religious wackjobs are so insecure about their church and their religion that they think something as trite as men having civil unions with men and women having civil unions will ruin civilization. Note to the clueless: This is the same backwards thinking that kept blacks from marrying whites, but of course you freakjobs dont discuss that because the notion that you are in any way associated with oppression is oh so wrong. We arent like that. Not at all. BS. If you freaks are going to hold this notion then stand up and admit you are oppressing a segment of the American population all in the name of your social and religious insecurities. If you cant admit that I have a name of a good therapist you can see. Denial is curable with the appropriate treatment.
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
Link Flag
No balls at corporate level
MS wimps out, big time!!!!!

First the misguided minister raises hell and MS waffles.

Then, the rest of the misguided raise hell, and MS waffles again.

And I sort of had the idea that MS knew what they were doing.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's about time !!!
My hat goes off to Microsoft.... It takes a lot of nerve to stand up for what you believe in, especially something of this magnitude. I personally thank you.
Posted by (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Watch your hat...
Which position are you talking about? MS's' fisrt, seciond, third, or
the one we haven't heard yet, their real position?

Of course, by now, MS has just about hit all options....
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
"Secondly, to the person that said "religious freaks". You are a Christophobe."
No, I'm a bigotphobe, as in I dislike bigots -- namely people who use a religion whose central ethics involve tolerance, goodwill and love, as an excuse to persecute minorities.

"If you believe that we will not use computers etc,, think again."
It was a joke, Einstein.
Posted by Azio (35 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What's the problem ?
Our position within the state of the USA can be defined by 2 things - RESPONSIBILITIES & RIGHTS.

We have RESPONSIBILITIES such as definding the nation against aggressors, paying taxes, obeying the laws governing behaviour within the nation, etc. Then we have RIGHTS, many (but not all) of which are described in the bill of rights.

Individuals and groups within society used to have the same RESPONSIBILITIES as the rest, but not the same RIGHTS. The (very) few Catholics had to pay taxes, like the rest of the 18th century Americans - but were often not protected by the law (i.e. killing a Catholic did not always result in as severe a penalty as killing an Episcopal). Then we became a nation, the constitution and bill of rights were created AND ratified.

If we make make the same demands on individuals and groups within society today - if everyone has the same RESPONSIBILITIES, then those individuals and groups must receive the same RIGHTS.

Therefore, the definition of any group within society has to fair and equal. For example - allowing people to refuse to serve as front line troops - conciencious objectors - can NOT be limited to people of a single faith. We can't allow Muslim CO's but not Jewish Co's or Christian CO's.

Similarly, marriage has to be defined in a fair and equal manner. So, I will accept the state (individual states and/or federal government) differentiating heterosexual/homosexual marriages IF anyone can come up with a single definition that -
a. defines ALL heterosexual marriages, but does NOT define any homosexual.
b. Includes the reason why the state should recognise marriage at all (what's the benefit to the state).
c. does not include ANY reference to scripture or dogma - i.e. it is purely a secular, logical definition.

Personally, as a 42yo, never married heterosexual male, I could go either way - either I could support the state recognition of ALL marriages (homosexual marries already exist, get over it - they simply aren't recognised as entitites by the state), or I could support NO state recognition of ANY marriage (if no good reason can be shown for additional rights for any couple).

Consider what Thomas Jefferson said, regarding state legistlation, favouring one religion above others - "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.". The same applies to all groups within our society.
Posted by (409 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Chill out.. (works here too)
.. your arguments, what ever merit they might have, are ;lost in
your near explosive attitude. And it might be worth a bit of time to
check on just what the word 'rights' means. You've got too much
wishful thinking in your defintions. Marriage never has been a
right. It's the state's choice in establishing the requirements fro
marriage, or for civil union, or whatever. And the way to adjust
those requirements is thru legislation, not blowing smoke.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft's Updated Position
I am very sorry to hear Microsoft position changed on this matter and assure you I will be looking for another software manufacture to service my needs in the future.
Posted by scotthi (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fire Molly Wood
Fire Molly Wood
Posted by montgomeryburns (109 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Is homosexuality sustainable? Real diversity includes Bible preachers!
Is homosexual behavior a sustainable life style? If homosexual behavior becomes sufficiently popular, it wouldn't it lead to less than an average of two children born per couple and average birth rates that are lower than average death rates, which would eventually cause the extinction of the human race? For those who consider creativity to be important, how many children do the average homosexual "couple" create, compared to the average happily married man and woman?

Related topics are Love versus Adultery. Do you believe the one who may (or has) become the biological parent of your child should be regarded as "second class" or at best "equal" when it comes to receiving sexual aspects of your love? Do you think that many who might otherwise choose biological parenthood will be particularly motivated to do so, knowing that they would be considered only "equal" or even "second-class" to someone else when it comes to receiving sexual aspects of love?

And, what about vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases?

After pondering answers to these questions, I've become convinced that homosexual behavior is harmful in ways that skin color and male and female gender are not harmful. Further, I have come to believe that homosexual behavior is not at its core a question of how we are made, because the Bible tells of people who were saved from homosexual behavior by faith in Christ and I have personally met people who testified that they were saved from homosexual behavior by faith in Christ. A Bible quotation which mentions this is "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate [by perversion], nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:9-11 NASV). I have never known anyone whose male or female gender or skin color was changed by faith in Christ! Of course, the Bible recognizes that other kinds of behavior are also harmful as well as homosexual behavior, notice that the quoted passage mentions some examples of such behavior.

After pondering what the Bible teaches about why homosexual behavior is harmful, I think those who truly love those who are homosexual will tell them that they can be washed from it and forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ.

I believe any person has the right to repent of their sins, and the "right" to marry one person of the opposite sex. This is nondiscriminatory and fair, because I believe any person has these rights, even though some may chose not to make use of these rights for various reasons.

I've also come to believe that real diversity includes being willing to hire people who believe what the Bible teaches and who are willing to tell it to others. I believe many organizations who accuse others of not supporting diversity in the work place need to consider how many people they employ who are willing to tell a practicing homosexual that they can be washed from it and forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ. Similar comments apply to companies who "pride" themselves on their diversity. Both the accusers and the accused may be practicing unjust discrimination and lack diversity, if they don't employ any people in both supervisory and nonsupervisory roles who have enough true love for all their neighbors to tell them that in Jesus there is a way to be cleansed and forgiven of homosexual behavior.

P.S. According to the Bible, what are Christ's credentials? He was killed and raised from the dead; the Bible claims this was witnessed by more than 500 people (I Corinthians 15). How easy is it for 500 people to agree on anything?
Posted by Doug_Kne (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
In my previous comment the sentence

"If homosexual behavior becomes sufficiently popular, it wouldn't it lead to less than an average of two children born per couple and average birth rates that are lower than average death rates, which would eventually cause the extinction of the human race?"

should read

"If homosexual behavior becomes sufficiently popular, wouldn't it lead to less than an average of two children born per couple and average birth rates that are lower than average death rates, which would eventually cause the extinction of the human race?"
Posted by Doug_Kne (2 comments )
Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.