Four prominent corporations are announcing their endorsement of an ambitious equal rights bill in Congress on Thursday, adding significant volume to a chorus of businesses calling for a nationwide ban on LGBT discrimination in workplaces, housing, and more.
IBM, Oracle, Orbitz, and Symantec are the latest to join nearly a dozen other companies backing the Equality Act in recent weeks — including Fortune 500 giants Apple, Google, and Dow Chemical — but whether statements of support for LGBT rights will spur action from a Republican-led Congress remains to be seen.
For IBM, endorsing the bill was seen as an extension of the company’s internal culture.
“We established a corporate policy on equal opportunity more than a decade before the Civil Rights Act,” the company said a statement provided to BuzzFeed News by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a national LGBT advocacy group that has been rolling out backers for the bill since it was introduced in July.
IBM touted an "industry-leading" policy of nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation over 30 years ago, and expanded it in 2002 to cover gender identity and expression.
Introduced by Rep. David Cicilline and Sen. Jeff Merkley — both Democrats — the Equality Act would bar discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity by amending a band of existing statutes — most notably by adding those classes to provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It would be the most comprehensive piece of legislation to date to protect LGBT people from discrimination, including in housing, workplaces, schools, and public accommodations.
Currently, such laws only cover an archipelago of state and local jurisdictions. But opinion surveys have found that the public favors a national nondiscrimination policy. Even in cases when serving an LGBT person conflicts with a business owner's religious beliefs, a Reuters poll found that most Americans believe the customer should not be turned away.
But even with 168 co-sponsors in the House and 40 in the Senate — all of them Democrats — it is unclear how the minority party can muscle the bill through the GOP-controlled Congress.
However, pressure from external forces could give the bill additional lift, particularly if the companies leverage their influence over lawmakers.
“It is too soon to talk specifics in terms of lobbying and other corporate activities,” Deena Fidas, head of HRC Foundation's Workplace Equality Program, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
“In the past,” she continued, “businesses in our coalitions to advance LGBT-inclusive bills have testified before lawmakers on Capitol Hill, penned op-eds, and reached out directly to lawmakers in their states.”
Fidas said the raft of corporate backers are nothing short of historic, adding, “We fully expect more growth in the coming weeks as leading businesses affirm their support of the Equality Act.”
Symantec argued the bill is good policy and good for the bottom line.
“We believe having a diversity of perspectives ensures we make better business decisions and the products and services we offer meet the needs of the broad spectrum of people we serve worldwide, which is why we couldn’t be more proud to support the expansion of legal protections," the Fortune 500 software company said in a statement.
Orbitz, the online travel booking company, added in its own statement that its support for the Equality Act "is consistent with our other actions, such as signing the amicus brief calling on the Supreme Court to find gay marriage bans unconstitutional.”
Other leading backers of the bill include American Airlines, Facebook, General Mills, Hewlett-Packard, Levi Strauss, Microsoft, and Nike.
Dominic Holden is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Dominic Holden at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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