Will Microsoft make the switch -- again?

Surprised by the hits his company is taking for abandoning a gay rights measure, Bill Gates says Microsoft may support the bill next time around.

Published April 26, 2005 3:40PM (EDT)

Bill Gates tells the Seattle Times that the world's largest software company may do the flip-flop-flip on the Washington state gay rights measure it supported then publicly abandoned after getting pressure from the minister of a Redmond, Wash., mega-church. It's too late for this year -- the bill lost by one vote in the Washington state senate last week -- but Gates says that Microsoft may support the bill when it comes up again next year.

"Next time this one comes around, we'll see," Gates says. "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."

The blogs, led by John Aravosis of AMERICAblog, have hounded Microsoft for abandoning the gay rights bill, and the press hasn't bought the company's explanation that it went neutral on the bill solely because it wanted to focus its energies on legislation that was closer to its core business interests. A columnist in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote Monday that, despite the company's efforts at spin, it's clear that Microsoft "caved in to fire and brimstone" from Ken Hutcherson, a former NFL linebacker who runs a Redmond church. "Given the chance to help deal a blow against ignorance and lead Washington state out of the dark ages," columnist Robert L. Jamieson, Jr., wrote, "the visionaries in Redmond took one look at a tough issue and went soft."

Gates tells the Seattle Times that he's surprised by the hits the company is taking for going neutral on a bill it once supported. "Well, we didn't expect that kind of visibility for it," he said. But visibility is exactly what the company's getting. While Gates is trying to get headlines for the company's upcoming "Longhorn" operating system -- and arguing to reporters that Microsoft is still a "hot, sexy company" -- the New York Times and now the Washington Post have both run substantial pieces on the gay rights flip-flop. Meanwhile, the blogosphere won't let up. This morning, Aravosis has a new question for Microsoft: Why is a company that prides itself on being a gay-friendly employer paying $20,000 a month to Century Strategies, the lobbying shop run by former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed?

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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