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Gates v. Ballmer: Heads of Microsoft now at odds over gay policy

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Wow. Microsoft is really tripping over themselves. Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer now have enunciated diametrically opposed positions on the recent gay rights debacle.

In today's Seattle Times, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said the company might reconsider its gay-right position, NEXT YEAR:

Microsoft may re-evaluate whether to support state legislation that would ban discrimination against gays and lesbians, Chairman Bill Gates said yesterday.

Gates said Microsoft was surprised by the sharp reaction after it became known that the company took a neutral position on the perennial measure this year, after actively supporting it in previous years.

"Next time this one comes around, we'll see," he said. "We certainly have a lot of employees who sent us mail. Next time it comes around that'll be a major factor for us to take into consideration."
Putting aside for a moment the "I know I beat you, honey, but if you're really good and stay with me, maybe next year I'll stop" aspect of the quote, Gates just flat out contradicted Microsoft President Steve Ballmer in his now-infamous company-wide email.

Basically, Ballmer said the company pulled their support for the gay rights bill because they no longer want to get involved in "social issues," meaning civil rights debates. Why? Ballmer tells us it's to avoid angering anti-gay religious right employees and shareholders:
"It's appropriate to invoke the company's name on issues of public policy that directly affect our business and our shareholders, but it's much less clear when it's appropriate to invoke the company's name on broader issues that go far beyond the software industry - and on which our employees and shareholders hold widely divergent opinions.

We are a public corporation with a duty first and foremost to a broad group of shareholders. On some issues, it is more appropriate for employees or shareholders to get involved as individual citizens. As CEO, I feel a real sense of responsibility around this question, and I believe there are important distinctions between my personal views on policy issues and when it's appropriate to involve the company."
Well color me confused. If Microsoft can change its mind so quickly after facing unexpected criticism, it adds weight to the argument that the company really DID cave to radical right-wing threats, whether they came from one anti-gay preacher or a concerted effort by homophobic employees and shareholders and who knows who else.

Not to mention, how can Microsoft support the legislation next year when the same problem will exist then that does now - the religious right will be ticked? I mean, what will be different next year that wasn't true this year? And in any case, Microsoft will still be ignoring it's bigoted employees and shareholders next year if they endorse the bill, and I thought the company wanted to embrace the bigots in the spirit of diversity?

And knowing that Ralph Reed is giving Microsoft advice, only adds to the creep factor and suspicion.

This scandal has been kicking around for a week now and shows no sign of abating. That's mostly because Microsoft has completely bungled it. They totally underestimated the power of the Internet. Which is more than ironic since they helped mold it. But they also refused to come clean. They thought they could finesse the controversy with PR spin, and got caught.

Sadly, Microsoft seems hell-bent on destroying the very climate of diversity they purport to value, and HAVE valued for so long. Worse yet, they're setting a new standard for corporate intolerance and don't even know it, or care.

But then again, how could they? Between Gates and Ballmer, Microsoft can't even figure out what the company's policy really is.

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