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Corporate America forced Arizona bill’s veto

– When an important social issue intersected with business in Arizona, Corporate America decided it was time to take a stand.

Voicing concern for their employees, customers and bottom lines, prominent companies from American Airlines to Verizon used threats of reduced business to help persuade Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto legislation that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gays based on the owner’s religious beliefs.

Companies have long spoken out about certain issues they felt threatened their bottom lines, such as taxation and the minimum wage. The strong opposition to the Arizona bill signals an acknowledgement by businesses that it’s not just economic policies that can be harmful to their profits.

Companies also recognize that many of their employees and customers are gay and try to foster an open and inviting corporate environment.

“Business used to restrict itself to economic issues, but they’re now seeing the importance of other kinds of issues,” said Darrell M. West, vice president of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

The measure Brewer vetoed Wednesday night would have allowed people to cite their religious beliefs as a defense against claims of discrimination. She faced intense pressure from gay rights supporters, prominent politicians and local businesses. But ultimately, it might have been the national business community that tipped the scales.

Arizona is a large tourism and convention destination. The state is the spring training home to several Major League Baseball teams and is hosting the Super Bowl next year. When Brewer signed an immigration bill in 2010 that sought to identify and deport illegal immigrants, there was nationwide backlash. Numerous companies and trade groups moved their annual conferences and retreats to other states.

The business community warned against a similar type of boycott this time.

“They played a major role in stopping this bill from becoming law. It’s pretty simple: When the businesses that fuel our economic growth voiced this level of urgency, lawmakers pay attention,” said Jace Woodrum, director of communications for the Equality Federation, a national advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker suggested his airline would cut flights if the state’s business, tourism and convention industry didn’t remain healthy. American – and its US Airways subsidiary – is the largest airline in Phoenix.

Verizon CEO Lowell C. McAdam also flexed some muscle, noting that Verizon has 2,500 Arizona employees, spent $1.4 billion on its in-state network and has more than 2.6 million customers there.

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