Attitudes toward gay marriage have rapidly progressed in the last two decades, especially on the U.S. West Coast. Since the majority of large-scale American technology companies are headquartered in California and Washington, CEOs and other corporate leaders in that industry have acclimated to the trends. Today, software giants like Microsoft, Amazon and Apple are loudly voicing their support for equal marriage rights.
Same-sex marriage has been a newsworthy issue since 1996, when the Republican-led U.S. Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), legally defining “marriage” as a union between a man and woman. The following decade witnessed a shift in public perception of gay marriage, particularly on the relatively liberal Pacific Coast—though, the movement yielded few legislative changes. Instead, courts continued to reinforce the theory that same-sex marriage was unnatural and unconstitutional, in such federal cases as Citizens for Equal Protection vs. Bruning (2005). Those interested in learning more about this case should consider exploring this site for online universities where they can learn more about human and civil rights cases in our nation’s history.
Meanwhile, as the issue of gay rights took hold of the American public, several corporate entities—including some of the world’s most prominent technology companies—publicly expressed their support for gay rights. In 2009, Queeried: An Attitude Filled Look at LGBT Life released a list titled, “10 Gay Friendly Companies To Go And Spend All Your Money With.” Honorees included: Microsoft, which became the first Fortune 500 company to offer same-sex partner benefits in 1993 and donated $100,000 to Washington Families Standing Together in support of Referendum 71 (Chairman Bill Gates also made a sizeable donation); Apple, which contributed $100,000 to pro-gay marriage charities; and IBM, which has rated 100 percent on its gay-friendly index since 2003 and received more than 40 LGBT awards.
In June 2008, Proposition 8, a referendum that effectively outlawed gay marriage in the Golden State, earned enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. During the week prior to Election Day, both Google and Apple spoke out against the legislation. In a statement released by Apple, the company decried Proposition 8’s inherent bias. “We strongly believe that a person’s fundamental rights –including the right to marry—should not be affected by their sexual orientation,” the statement read. “Apple views this as a civil rights issue, rather than just a political issue, and is therefore speaking out publicly against Proposition 8.” In addition students and other concern citizens across the decried against the proposition via public protests and petitions online. Voters ultimately passed the proposition in November 2008, though both companies and many others have continued to speak out against it.
In recent news, February 2012 has been a very productive month for proponents of gay marriage legislation. On Feb. 7, a federal appeals court in California declared the controversial Proposition 8 unconstitutional; gay couples in that state can marry as early as Feb. 28. Washington state lawmakers recently expressed similar sentiments. On Feb. 1, SB 6239—which legalizes gay marriage and recognizes all current same-sex unions that are still intact in 2014—passed the Washington state Senate; on Feb. 13, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the bill into law. The state House of Representatives passed a similar measure, HB 2516, on Feb. 8.
The first wave of companies to reiterate their support for the cause included Microsoft, Vulcan, RealNetworks and Concur. On Jan. 25, 2012, these companies announced Washington United For Marriage (WUFM), a statewide coalition of businesses and individuals in favor of same-sex marriage in Washington. Lacey All, Chair for WUFM, told CBS Seattle the size of her organization indicates the revelatory shift in corporate culture in regard to gay-friendly attitudes. “Marriage equality provides a multitude of intangible benefits to Washington businesses,” she said. “Recognizing the relationships of all–irrespective of sexual orientation–means an open and innovative business climate that ensures fundamental fairness and basic civil rights for all.”
Other Northwest-based tech firms to join WUFM included 16 Copenhagen, Bizible, Brandquery, LLC, CG Tech Services, Mx2 Computer Consulting, True North Partners, LLC, and Vista Diagnostics International. The Seattle Interactive Conference—an annual conference of web-based creative thinkers and programmers—also became a member of the coalition. On Feb. 1, Amazon added its name to WUFM. In a statement released to The Seattle Times, the company claimed, “the spirit of these bills is consistent with our long-standing employment practices.”
As long as equal marriage rights are denied to American citizens, the issue will maintain its relevance among the public. Technology firms have so far set the example for tolerance at the workplace. As voters head to the ballots this fall, their support will be needed more than ever.
Bio: Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.