When you open a business in the United States, you have no choice but to deal with the long arm of government, whether it’s income taxes or business fees that you’re required to pay or a long list of rules and regulations that you’re required to follow.
Regardless of political point of view, most business owners would likely agree with politicians when they say that businesses need the freedom to grow and flourish on their own, without the government creating more obstacles and challenges.
That’s why you saw businesses – large big-named corporations like Apple, Intel and American Express, among others – speaking out against and encouraging the veto of an Arizona bill that, essentially, made it OK for business owners to discriminate against gay people and refuse service to them simply because of who they love.
Sure, the bill was worded to suggest that this was not about discrimination against gay people but rather to protect the religious freedom of business owners – think bakers, caterers and florists – who might have a problem, based on religious beliefs, with providing services to certain people.
In the end, Arizona Gov. Jan brewer vetoed the bill, correctly noting that there had been no actual instances where a business owner’s religious freedoms had been compromised and that it could, unintentionally, do more harm than good. That much was already clear. There had already been talk of moving next year’s Super bowl out of Arizona, companies were already re-thinking operations in the state and industry groups were threatening to take their conventions elsewhere.
The thing about what happened in Arizona is that it never should have. Politicians – specifically Republican lawmakers who have been negatively influenced by the extremist views of the Tea Party – created this “solution” for a problem that didn’t exist. And when the state legislature pushed it through and sent it to the governor’s desk, it created a perception – and rightfully so – that the state as a whole is unfriendly and unwelcoming to gays.
Put aside for a moment that gay people – and those who support the fight for their equal rights – would avoid Arizona and take their consumer dollars elsewhere. But that’s just the beginning of the ripple effect. If gay people and their supporters – straight or otherwise – feel that Arizona is a “hate state,” they may choose to vacation elsewhere, which means that hotels and restaurants won’t benefit from their dollars. They may choose to live elsewhere, which means that businesses looking to hire will have a smaller pool of talent to choose from. They could boycott Arizona-based businesses, which could impact sales. Case in point: In 2010, when Arizona was under fire over a controversial immigration law, the beverage company that makes Arizona Iced Tea had to inform angry consumers that it was based in New York, not Arizona.
Politicians catering to the extremist, ideological views of a far-right constituency have done more harm than good in recent years. The Republicans was once the party known for speaking out against heavy government influence on businesses. They used to argue that businesses needed the freedom to grow and prosper without the heavy hand of government weighing them down. And yet, here is another example where these same Republican lawmakers are trying to inject their ideological beliefs into business regulations, resulting in great backlash and – more importantly – bigger headaches for the very companies they claim to be protecting.
Bottom line: The country is moving forward and the momentum for equal rights for ALL Americans is growing. It’s bad enough that the far right continues to find itself on the wrong side of history. But now they’re violating their own mantra – the idea that government should get out of the way – by moving bills that hurt businesses and economies.
Speaking as a business owner, I say to the government, “Get out of the way and let me pave my own future.” Speaking as an American, the message is the same.